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Reinhart, Eichel rally Sabres to win over Jets

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

BUFFALO, New York – The Buffalo Sabres rallied from a 2-0, first-period deficit with three unanswered goals to defeat the Jets 3-2 Saturday at First Niagara Center.

After Sam Reinhart tied the game just 1:23 into the third period, rookie sensation Jack Eichel put the Sabres on top with his 23rd of the year less than three minutes later. It was all the offence they would need, as the home side held on for the victory.

After the Jets turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Reinhart made a nice feed over to Eichel, who fired it home from the top of the circle for the eventual game winner.

“It was kind of like a badly played fast game and you don’t see that very often,” Head Coach Paul Maurice said. “There was some speed in that game, so at points, there was some excitement to it. … I don’t think either team had enough sustained ‘anything’ in the game. I didn’t think either team would be excited about the number of puck battles that they won, or handled, or plays that were there that disappeared on them… “

For the 10th time this season, the Jets were unable to extend a two-game winning streak to three. The club will day off tomorrow before finishing up this brief, two-game road trip Monday in Philadelphia.

Nikolaj Ehlers opened the scoring for the Jets at 4:27 of the first period. Mark Scheifele orchestrated the goal with a beautiful bank pass off the boards, creating a partial 2-on-1 that Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe had little hope to defend. Burning him wide, Ehlers cut to the net and beat Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson with a chip shot over the glove.

With the assist, Scheifele has now set a new career high in points with 50 (24G, 26A).

After beating former Western League all star Mark Pysyk down the right side, Andrew Copp put the Jets up by two just 44 seconds later. Copp drove the net, fired a quick shot into the pads and had the rebound bounce in off a defender for the two-nil tally.

The goal was initially credited to Nic Petan, but was later changed.

The goal was reviewed, twice – the first to determine if the puck was kicked in, the other a challenge for goaltender interference initiated by the home team – but after a lengthy delay, play finally resumed with the Jets leading by two.

“We really used our speed on those two goals,” Copp said. “We needed more shots, more pucks and bodies at the front of the net.”

The Sabres cut the deficit in half at 8:37 as 2013 fourth-round pick Hudson Fasching scored his first NHL goal. Fasching, who signed his entry-level contract earlier this week after completing his junior season with University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, cut to the net and buried a shot five-hole after being his man at the far circle.

Fellow NCAA alum Casey Nelson, who was also debuting for the Sabres, recorded the assist for his first big-league point.

Shots on goal favoured the Sabres 10-6 after one.

“We didn’t generate much,” Drew Stafford, who had a great chance – but didn’t score – off an incredible solo effort early on, said with some dejection. “A couple turnovers, a couple breakdowns ended up in the back of our net. That’s a tough one, especially when we play that type of game, still have the lead but give it up. It’s frustrating.”

In a scoreless middle frame, the Jets came up with two huge penalty kills late to preserve the lead heading into the third, but the home side came out flying. Reinhart, who had a hat trick the last time these two teams met, hammered home a bouncing puck at 1:23 and suddenly, it was all square – but not for long.

The Sabres took over, outshooting the Jets 9-5 in the final frame, helping them secure the two goals.

“This group,” Stafford said, “we might be young, but we’ve got to learn how to play with a lead and learn how to protect it.

“It’s a matter of skating. We weren’t doing that well enough, and were extending our shifts a little too much. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

LATE HITS: Stafford, Tyler Myers and Joel Armia were back in their old stomping grounds for the first time since the Feb. 11, 2015 trade that sent Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and goaltending prospect Jason Kasdorf to the Sabres.

“I’ve got nothing but great memories here,” Stafford said. I was here for quite a long time; my son was born here. I’ve got a lot of respect for the fans and the organization here. We had some good times and obviously some bad ones, too, but it’s good to be back.”

Myers did not play after undergoing season-ending knee surgery Thursday, but did meet with the media during the second intermission.

“I always cherish my time in Buffalo,” the defenceman said, “but I’ve really found a home in Winnipeg.”

– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com

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