Luukkonen Bryam

The Buffalo Sabres are suddenly back in Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and two NHL EDGE standouts on their back end are largely responsible for their resurgence.

Goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, fresh off his fifth shutout of the season (tied for third in NHL), ranks among the League's top 10 in high-danger save percentage (.835; sixth) and mid-range save percentage (.910; tied for seventh). Since Dec. 30, “UPL” is 16-8-1 (tied for third in wins during span) with a .931 save percentage (tied for NHL best) and four shutouts (most in League) in 25 games.

Prior to Buffalo’s current 8-3-1 stretch to climb within three points of a postseason spot in the Eastern Conference, Luukkonen was flying under the radar for a young team that was wildly inconsistent despite some promising metrics -- and injuries to some of its top players at different times in forwards Tage Thompson, Alex Tuch, Jeff Skinner and Jack Quinn, and defenseman Owen Power.

But since the Sabres acquired defenseman Bowen Byram prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, sending their leading point producer at the time, Casey Mittelstadt, to the Colorado Avalanche, they are 3-1-0 and providing their breakout goalie with much more support.

Byram is making an early case to be the steal of the deadline with five points (three goals, two assists) and 12 shots on goal during his first four games with the Sabres while playing on the top pair with elite defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, giving him NHL career highs in goals (11) and points (25) in 59 games this season. By no coincidence, Buffalo is outscoring its opponents 15-9 and outshooting them by an average of 32.8 to 25.3 during that span.

Despite missing significant time early on in his career because of multiple long-term injuries, Byram ranks fifth among NHL defensemen in goals per game (0.20) since 2021-22 behind Cale Makar (0.31), Roman Josi (0.26), Dougie Hamilton (0.22) and Erik Karlsson (0.22) and has the highest shooting percentage (13.8 percent) at the position during that span (minimum, 20 games).

Per NHL EDGE stats, Byram is tied for third among NHL defensemen in high-danger goals (four on 10 shots on goal) and tied for fourth in mid-range goals (seven) this season. Byram is also among the leaders in top skating speed, reaching 23.00 mph on Feb. 22 (87th percentile).

The 25-year-old Luukkonen, meanwhile, has taken hold of Buffalo’s starting job despite lofty preseason expectations surrounding rookie goalie Devon Levi, who’s currently playing for Rochester in the American Hockey League. Levi has a .926 save percentage in 18 AHL games but had mixed results in 20 NHL games this season, going 9-7-2 with an .891 save percentage.

Byram, who’s still only 22, played a pivotal role as a rookie for the Avalanche during their Stanley Cup run in 2022 with nine assists and a plus-15 in 20 playoff games, along with the fifth-best shot attempts differential in the NHL that postseason (plus-149).

This season, Buffalo ranks tied for 11th in the NHL in shots on goal per game (31.4), is allowing the sixth-fewest shots on goal per game (28.9) and has the sixth fewest giveaways (400) in the League. Per NHL EDGE team stats, Buffalo leads the League in mid-range shots on goal (646) and mid-range goals (79), ranks tied for 10th in long-range goals (15) and seventh in 90-plus mile per hour shots (85).

The Sabres have won three straight games but do not have a winning streak longer than that all season, setting up a crucial rematch against the Detroit Red Wings, who they defeated 7-3 at KeyBank Center on Tuesday, in their next game, at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday (12:30 p.m. ET; BSDET, NHLN, MSG-B, SN1). But whether the Sabres make or miss the postseason after this late-season push, they have found two more key building blocks in an effort to end their 12-season playoff drought, which is the longest in the NHL.