After doing everything short of throwing a kitchen sink at their opponent through two periods, the Buffalo Sabres broke through in the third period and downed the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2 on Friday night.
Throughout the game’s first two periods, multiple shots were fired at both goaltenders – Buffalo’s Robin Lehner and the Flyers’ Brian Elliott – without much to show for them. In fact, the closest either team came to putting a goal on the scoreboard came on a penalty shot a few minutes into the first period.
Just 3:42 into the game, Evander Kane was hauled down on a partial breakaway by Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. Kane, however, was stopped by Elliott on his shot attempt.
Frustration could have settled in on the Sabres’ bench, but it didn’t, and the players kept plugging away, according to coach Phil Housley.
“I give credit to our guys because we’ve been in that position before where nothing is going in and, ‘Here we go again,’” Housley said. “But they stuck with it. We kept telling them to just keep throwing pucks to the net, it’s going to happen.
“Finally, we broke through. We didn’t get away from what we were talking about.”
With the shot totals at 28-21 after 40 minutes of play, the Sabres got on the board when Ryan O’Reilly banked a shot off of Elliott’s skate and into the back of the net, giving the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
“Offensively, it was kind of frustrating how many Grade A chances we had,” O’Reilly said. “In the second and third intermission, we said, ‘Let’s keep shooting pucks. We’re going to break them.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
Adversity struck shortly thereafter though when Sam Reinhart and Jake McCabe were whistled for holding and delay of game penalties, respectively, giving the Flyers a crucial 5-on-3 power play. Luckily for Housley, his team was able to kill off the penalty and provide a boost for his bench.
“Our penalty kill at home has been really strong for us,” Housley said. “Guys have been putting their bodies in front of shots and have been keeping their sticks in shooting and passing lanes well. Tonight those units were real solid.”
Kane then deflected a shot from Josh Gorges into the Flyers’ net to put his team up by two, but Philadelphia wouldn’t go quietly. After pulling Elliott for an extra attacker, a wrist shot from the point by Claude Giroux was tipped past Lehner by Michael Raffl to make it a one-score game.
With Elliott still pulled, Jack Eichel sealed the win for the Sabres with a pair of empty-net goals about a minute apart. Gostisbehere also added a goal for the Flyers sandwiched in between Eichel’s tallies.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Eichel became the first Buffalo player ever to score two empty-net goals in the same game, and the first to record a game-winner on an empty net since Miroslav Satan accomplished the feat on Jan. 22, 2004 against the Boston Bruins.
“There have been times this year where we’ve had good periods and nothing to show for it, or we’re tied or we’re down a goal,” Eichel said. “Whether we take a few risks or push a little too hard, we end up giving up goals and then we find ourselves chasing.
“I thought we did a good job of sticking to our game plan through the 60 minutes.”
Lehner stopped 33 of 35 shots and ranks first in the NHL with a .935 save percentage and 1.94 goals-against average at home.
The game was the team’s last scheduled game at the KeyBank Center for the calendar year of 2017, as the Sabres will hit the road for a seven-game road trip that will include the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.