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by Joe Ray / Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Jr. Sabres picked a good time to get their first win of the year over the Georgetown Raiders.

After being swept in the four-game season series with Georgetown, the Jr. Sabres entered the OJHL playoffs as the eighth seed in the South-West Conference, facing off against the top ranked Raiders. Going on the road and heading into a packed arena ready for playoff action, Buffalo rallied late to emerge victorious with a 3-2 overtime victory on Thursday. Defenseman Bray Crowder buried a long shot seven minutes in to give Buffalo the early 1-0 series lead over Georgetown.

Buffalo trailed 2-1 in the final minutes when a strong offensive shift ended with defenseman Michael Bevilacqua scoring the game-tying goal with 2:57 left in the third period. Both teams stayed even for the remainder of regulation before Crowder ended it in OT.

Upcoming Games:

  • Fri. February 27 vs. Georgetown (7:30 p.m., HARBORCENTER)
  • Sat. February 28 @ Georgetown (7:30 p.m.)
  • Mon. March 2 vs. Georgetown (7:00 p.m., HARBORCENTER)
  • *Wed. March 4 @ Georgetown (7:30 p.m.)
  • *Fri. March 6 vs. Georgetown (7:30 p.m., HARBORCENTER)
  • *Sat. March 7 @ Georgetown (7:30 p.m.)
* If necessary

Team captain Ryan Kuhn netted the other Buffalo goal on the man-advantage, and Zach Evancho picked up two assists. The Jr. Sabres also received a strong effort in net from goaltender Alex Connal, who stopped 42 of 44 shots to keep his team in the game until the decisive overtime goal.

“It was a good all-around win, and we played hard,” Bevilacqua said. “A couple of kids stepped up; especially Bray getting the game winner at the end. It’s playoff hockey.”

Bevilacqua joined the Jr. Sabres in January after being promoted from the organization’s 18U team. While there was certainly an adjustment period for the 17-year-old, Bevilacqua has quickly acclimated to his defensive role on the Jr. ‘A’ team, and he has three goals in his last six games to boot.

“It was a little slower, so I had to pick up my play just a little bit,” Bevilacqua said. “It was just that little split second faster that you’ve got to move the puck. I’m adjusting to it better now and I’m doing pretty well now.”

Considering how far the team came over the course of the season, winning their first playoff game of the year was even more gratifying. The Jr. Sabres struggled with two major losing streaks early in the year, as young players adjusted to the pace of play while some older players returned to Buffalo from outside programs.

On the heels of a major surge in December and January, Buffalo rallied to advance to postseason play for the fourth consecutive season. While they may have one game in hand in the series now, they are not losing sight of the fact that the top-ranked Raiders are a formidable opponent.

“They’re a real good team,” Jr. Sabres forward Brenden Dunning said. “They work hard, they pass well, and they have a couple real skilled guys. Anyone can beat anyone on any day though, so we went in there with a level head and realized the game was for the taking.”

The playoff series alternates home arenas each game for the entire series, rather than giving each team two consecutive games to start the series. This gives the Jr. Sabres an opportunity to seize a 2-0 lead on home ice Friday night at HARBORCENTER.

“Winning the first one’s huge,” Dunning said. “You feel a lot more comfortable, you can play your game, there’s no stress. We’ve got to work hard and get the next couple, but getting that first one is definitely great.”

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