An explosive third period which saw the Buffalo Sabres score three goals in a span of 1:31 propelled the team to a 5-2 over division rival Toronto on Sunday night.
Those three goals – by Jack Eichel, Kyle Okposo and Jimmy Vesey – marked the first time the Sabres lit the lamp that many times in such a short time frame since Brian Holzinger, Matthew Barnaby and Vaclav Varada recorded tallies in a span of 1:08 during a 5-4 win over the Boston Bruins on April 3, 1998.
“This homestand began very disappointingly, and we’ve fought and worked hard to get our game back after the (NHL All-Star) break,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “As the others are raising their games, we need to match it, and so this has been a really good week at home to give our fans what I was saying a week ago they deserve. Now we’ve got to take this game on the road.”
“We’re starting to get the confidence going again in the room, and I think that’s everything,” Eichel said. “You see we’re getting contributions throughout the lineup. We keep doing that, we keep playing hard, limiting the other teams’ opportunities, who knows what can happen. We’re focused on our next day and trying to get two points in our next game.”
After an opening period in which neither team scored but Buffalo controlled the play with a 16-5 advantage in shots, Johan Larsson put the Sabres on the board first early in the second by converting on a rebound chance off of a slapshot from the point by Colin Miller. About 10 minutes later, Conor Sheary deflected a shot from Miller – also from the point – past Maple Leafs goaltender Frederick Andersen to make it 2-0.
A wrist shot by rookie Egor Korshkov – his first NHL goal in his first NHL game – past Carter Hutton got the Leafs on the board nearly two minutes after Sheary’s tally and Zach Hyman tied the game at two apiece when he tipped a shot by Jake Muzzin into the net early in the second.
Then came the Sabres’ onslaught. Eichel took advantage of a tripping penalty by Muzzin by wristing a shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Andersen clean on the power play and gave his team a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the night.
“The power play had a good night tonight and hadn’t scored in the first two chances, and deserved that opportunity the way they’d been working the puck around the zone and creating offense,” Krueger said. “But probably the best thing that we’ve been lacking this year is you can see our depth, you can see that we’ve got healthy bodies now and to be able to push after that goal with the fourth and fifth goals was something that we haven’t seen enough of this year.
“It was just great to see a four-line effort here. It was just a real clear mindset.”
49 seconds later, Okposo gathered a loose puck and buried a shot past Andersen to increase the lead to 4-2 and Vesey sealed the win with a goal of his own 42 seconds later.
Hutton made 20 saves in the win.
“As a team we did really well,” Okposo, who recorded his 500th career point, said. “I thought we handled the mostly ups we had in the game. They made a push there at the beginning of the third, they tie the game, (Hutton) bails us out, makes a couple of huge saves, and then we’re able to roll from there. So I really like the way that we played the full 60 tonight.”