Nicholas Baptiste scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner, to help the Buffalo Sabres defeat the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday 5-3.
It’s the first win by the team over their counterparts from the Windy City since Dec. 11, 2009, and despite the Blackhawks’ recent downturn – Chicago will likely miss the postseason for the first time in ten years – the Sabres were stoked to beat a team with multiple Stanley Cup champions on their roster.
“It’s nice to beat these guys,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “They’re not having the greatest year, but they’re still a great team with a lot of talent. For us to get this win, it’s a huge one for us.”
Jack Eichel, who recorded an assist in his return following a 15-game absence, had just turned 13 when the Sabres last accomplished the feat.
“I loved the outcome,” Eichel said. “It was just a lot of fun to get out there and play again. I enjoy playing the game, no matter what time of the year it is, who we’re playing, where we’re playing.
“It’s just a lot of fun to be out on the ice with these guys. It feels great to get back out there and compete.”
It was also a game in which the Sabres were dominated in the shot category after the first two periods, but found a way to succeed in the third period. Following a second period in which Buffalo native Patrick Kane and company outshot Buffalo 16-6 – and 28-18 overall – coach Phil Housley said that despite the circumstances, it didn’t hurt the team’s confidence.
“We never backed down,” Housley said. “I thought the guys responded in the right way.”
In the goal department, however, each squad evenly matched one another through two periods of play. Benoit Pouliot got the Sabres on the board late in the first period, and was answered on a tip-in by Jordan Oesterle midway through the second. Ryan O’Reilly then made the score 2-1 on the power play while crashing the crease, but a goal by Tomas Jurco threatened to derail Buffalo’s hopes for a win.
With 5:45 to go in the second, Jurco attempted a wrist shot at Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson and Johnson made the initial save. Yet Johnson couldn’t control the rebound, and the puck deflected off of Rasmus Ristolainen and into the net.
It typified the sort of year that the Sabres have endured thus far. But just like the shots against category, it didn’t get the team down.
“That’s due to our leadership group,” Baptiste said. “They said there was plenty of time and that we were all right.”
20 seconds into the third period, Jonathan Toews attempted to seal the win for Chicago by collecting his own rebound, batting the puck out of mid-air and past Johnson. His efforts, however, weren’t enough, as Baptiste tied the game at three on a deflection past Blackhawks goaltender J-F Berube.
Baptiste then scored the game-clinching goal with just under two minutes to play, as a shot by Marco Scandella from the point was once again redirected by Baptiste into Chicago’s net. Sam Reinhart iced the win a short while later with an empty-net vacated by Berube – the third point of Reinhart’s night, as he was credited with two assists earlier in the contest.
“That’s been a focus of our team – just getting shots to the net, getting bodies to the net and scoring some ugly goals,” Baptiste said. “We got a couple tonight. That’s what it takes to score goals in this league and win.”
“He’s a big guy, and he needs to get to the net,” Housley said of Baptiste’s play. “That’s where he’s going to get rewarded like you saw today. We need more of that. He’s continued in a good direction with his development.”
Chad Johnson notched 37 saves in the win.