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Kane's goal snaps skid with win over Coyotes

O'Reilly, Eichel have 3-point nights; Murray speaks with team

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

For a while, you had to wonder whether this game was going to end up like the others. The script on Thursday for the Buffalo Sabres against the Arizona Coyotes was all too similar to their last two losses; they dominated the first two periods only to see their lead evaporate in the third.

The difference this time around was that when Arizona tied the game at 3-3 on a shot from the point by Alex Goligoski with 11:40 remaining, it motivated the Sabres rather than rattle them. Buffalo snapped into shape, as Jack Eichel put it, and scored the next three goals of an eventual 6-3 victory.

 "You can feel good about yourselves that you found a way to win a game. With that being said, we still gave our lead away so I don't know what it is," Eichel said. "I don't know if we stop making plays, I don't know if we start skating backwards, if we're not putting enough pressure on them, but it seems like they took the play to us for a little bit. 

"When they scored I think we kind of snapped into shape and started playing again."

Video: Condensed Game: Coyotes @ Sabres

Eichel was one of two players, along with Ryan O'Reilly, to tally three points for Buffalo, both with a goal and two assists. Marcus Foligno scored twice, once shorthanded and once into an empty net, while Evander Kane continued his torrid stretch by scoring the game-winning goal with 5:36 left to play in the third period. Sam Reinhart capped the scoring with a second empty-net goal in the game's final seconds.

Robin Lehner made 19 saves to earn the win in net. 

Perhaps even more so than in their loss to the Coyotes in Glendale on Sunday, when the Sabres carried a 2-0 lead into the third period of an eventual 3-2 loss, Buffalo controlled the play for the majority of the first 40 minutes. They kept the puck in the offensive zone for long periods of time while also managing to limit Arizona's possession.

The problem was that while it showed in the shot totals, it didn't show in the score. Buffalo lead entering the second intermission was only 3-2 despite holding a 31-10 edge in shots.

Both of Arizona's goals had come on rush plays, first when Dmitry Kulikov pinched down low to keep a Buffalo possession alive, resulting in a 2-on-1 goal for Teemu Pulkkinen to open the scoring in the first period, and then when Tobias Rieder stole the puck from Eichel and blew past O'Reilly for a breakaway shorthanded goal in the second.

"A couple weird bounces there," Eichel said. "On that first goal, we play in their zone for the majority of the shift, they get an odd-man rush and score and then a tough play by Ryan and myself on the power play, obviously letting that puck go by us. Rieder's a pretty fast player, we've got to get in front of him."

Still, Buffalo's domination was enough to get them the lead. O'Reilly made a superstar play to feed Foligno for the Sabres' own shorthanded goal, and both he and Eichel were able to find the back of the net on the power play in the first two periods.

Then, in the third, everything flipped. Arizona hadn't exceeded six shots total in either of the first two periods; in the third, their sixth shot was the game-tying goal from Goligoski, and it came a mere 8:20 into the period.

"This is do or die hockey for us," Foligno said. "Luck isn't on our side when it's 3-3 and you're outshooting a team by 23 shots. It's just staying the course. It's being positive. The talk on the bench was good throughout all the guys on the bench and we kept with it."

"We weren't affected by it," O'Reilly added. "We all knew that we needed to start generating our own offense, getting the puck in. Once we did that, we got some breaks and took control."

It was Kane, Buffalo's hottest goal scorer, who took the shot that ultimately gave the Sabres a permanent lead. Kane skated behind O'Reilly on a rush into the offensive zone, O'Reilly fed him with a back pass and he buried a shot from the high slot for his 23rd goal of the season.

Video: ARI@BUF: Kane rifles go-ahead one-timer past Smith

It was the fourth goal allowed by Arizona goalie Mike Smith, who made 35 saves. Smith entered the game with a 7-0-3 record when facing 40 or more shots; on this night, Buffalo's 40th shot was the empty-net goal from Foligno and its 41st an empty-netter from Reinhart.

Video: ARI@BUF: Foligno nets SHG on feed from O'Reilly

Having lost their last four games entering the night, it was a relief for the Sabres to escape with a win and a couple of points they were happy to claim. But it's still an uphill battle with 18 games remaining, and Eichel was adamant that the team's focus needs to remain on improving.

"I still think there's another level," he said. "If we want to be the team that we want to be, then I think we need to learn a little bit better how to play with the lead and do a little bit better job of getting that next goal and stepping on the other team's throat and not let them get back into the game."

 

Okposo exits due to injury

The Sabres lost forward Kyle Okposo late in the second period after taking a check into the boards in front of the Buffalo bench. Coach Dan Bylsma said the injury was in the area of Okposo's ribs, but had no further update other than that he had received x-rays after the game.

In 62 games this season, Okposo leads the Sabres with 41 points and ranks second to Kane with 19 goals.

 

A big night for O'Reilly

O'Reilly said he had been unhappy with his play throughout Buffalo's recent losing streak, during which he had been unable to find the back of the net. This game was certainly a step in the right direction, given both his one-time goal on a feed from Eichel and his game-winning feed to Kane.

Video: ARI@BUF: O'Reilly buries Eichel's dish for PPG

His best play of the night, however, may have been the one that led to Foligno's shorthanded goal in the first period. Bylsma called Pulkkinen's goal to open the scoring "a punch in the gut," and a quick power play for the Coyotes after that could've made matters worse. Instead, O'Reilly spilt two defenders after winning a battle along the boards and fed an open Foligno in the slot for the game-tying goal.

Video: ARI@BUF: Foligno nets SHG on feed from O'Reilly

"We felt last game we did a good job clogging them up coming out of their zone," Foligno said. "Playing with Ryan on the PK has been great, I mean he's just so smart over the ice … It was a huge shorthanded goal."

"I think we need big plays from your big players," Bylsma added later. "I thought you got it from the first play on the penalty kill there."

 

Motivation from Murray

Sabres general manager Tim Murray, according to Bylsma, typically comes down to speak with his coaches around 5 p.m. on a game night. This time, after making no moves prior at the trade deadline on Wednesday, he came down with a special request.

"He said he wanted to speak with the team," Bylsma said. "They should've been pretty motivated by what Tim said and the talk he gave the team. I think they responded in time."

Murray is known to be a straight-shooter, and he's said multiple times that he believes the team on the ice for the Sabres has the talent to make the playoffs. The fact that he reiterated that to them with 19 games remaining and an uphill climb ahead, O'Reilly said, went a long way.

"It was something we needed to hear," O'Reilly said. "It was nice, refreshing to have him come in and say this is the group and that he believes in us. You could feel it around the room, the excitement. It's on us now, and you could kind of tell that everyone felt good about it and knew that we have to dig deep here and go inside and collectively as a group we have to dig deep here and give us that push."


Up next

Buffalo concludes its three-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Lightning at KeyBank Center on Saturday night. It will be the third of four matchups between the division rivals this season, with Tampa Bay having won the first two contests. 

Coverage on Saturday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Lightning at 7 p.m.

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