GLENDALE, Ariz. - It ended up coming down to the very last second, but once their game against the Arizona Coyotes had drawn to its conclusion the Buffalo Sabres were simply happy to be leaving Gila River Arena with a victory on Thursday night.
Make no mistake, the Sabres are aware of the areas in their game that they need to clean up. Phil Housley said his team started like they hadn't played in four days (they hadn't), and players felt they took their foot off the pedal to allow Arizona to storm back from a 5-1 deficit in the last eight minutes.
But the result - a 5-4 win for the Sabres - was what mattered most in the end.
"It was a big win for us, but still a few things we've got to work on," goalie Robin Lehner said. "A lot of open chances, a bunch of breakaways. It's something we've got to work on. But we've got to build off this win. I thought we did a lot of good things offensively."
Video: Pouliot, Okposo lead offensive charge in 5-4 victory
The line of Benoit Pouliot (2+1), Ryan O'Reilly (0+3) and Kyle Okposo (1+1) combined for eight points, while Seth Griffith and Evander Kane also scored goals for the Sabres.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Zac Rinaldo, Nick Cousins and Christian Dvorak all scored goals for the Coyotes.
Housley said the line of Pouliot, O'Reilly and Okposo has carried the team as of late, and it's no surprise that it was that trio who swung momentum in Buffalo's favor after a lackluster start. Trailing 1-0, Pouliot fed Okposo for a one-time goal to even the score with .09 seconds remaining in the first period.
Video: BUF@ARI: Okposo nets snap shot from the faceoff dot
The goal was Okposo's first in 11 games this season. Asked if he felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, his answer was simply, "Yes."
"I knew that we didn't have a lot of time left, but once Benny got it I saw two guys just kind of stuck right to him," he said. "He made a great play through the guy's legs and I was just trying to get it on net."
It was Pouliot who found the back of the net to give the Sabres their first lead after 4:20 had passed in the second period, this time with Okposo feeding O'Reilly with an entry pass along the boards and O'Reilly setting Pouliot up on a 2-on-1 rush.
Video: BUF@ARI: Pouliot buries O'Reilly's great dish
From that point on, the next 26 minutes saw the Sabres welcome back Coyotes goalie Anti Raanta - playing his first game since Oct. 12 - with a series of odd-man rushes. Griffith scored on a 3-on-1 rush before the end of the second period, Kane scored shorthanded to open the third and then Pouliot's second goal of the night gave them a 5-1 lead with 8:48 remaining.
Then, the comeback began.
"I don't think we panicked," Pouliot said. "Maybe we just thought the game was over before it was over."
Rinaldo scored less than a minute after Pouliot's second goal to make it 5-2. Less than two minutes after Rinaldo's goal, Cousins crashed the net and scored on a rebound. The Coyotes finally came within one when Dvorak scored with 51.7 seconds remaining, prompting an Arizona timeout.
Through it all, Lehner said the Sabres never felt panicked on the ice. They finally sealed the victory when Johan Larsson cleared a loose puck from the crease in the game's dwindling seconds.
"I just thought we needed to bear down and make the right decisions," Housley said. "We got away from what made us successful and we shot ourselves in the foot, but obviously we'll take the win."
Plus, even if it wasn't always pretty, a five-goal outing may have been just what the doctor ordered for a team that had been struggling to bury its chances as of late.
"We hope so," Pouliot said. "We hope it does. There's still a lot of things that we need to be better at in terms of the structure of our game, like at the end we kind of got away from it. But hopefully it gives us a big boost of confidence offensively and we've just got to do the job defensively too. "
Lehner comes up big
The Sabres weathered the early storm brought on by the Coyotes thanks in large part to the performance of Lehner, who stopped a pair of breakaways and a pair of point-blank chances from rookie Clayton Keller in the first period alone.
Video: BUF@ARI: Lehner stones Fischer on breakaway
Lehner ended his night having made 25 saves on 29 shots.
"Robin bailed us out," Okposo said. "We're still giving up too many chances and I'm sure we'll look at some stuff. We've got to clean up some stuff in the D-zone."
Look at these nifty moves
The Sabres got the chance to showcase some skill as they padded their lead with goals from Griffith and Kane in the second and third periods. The first, from Griffith, extended the lead to 3-1 after Sam Reinhart freed him for a mini breakaway on a 3-on-1 rush.
Griffith deked as he closed in on the net before scoring off his backhand.
Video: BUF@ARI: Griffith roofs a beauty to extend lead
"I tried to make a move in tight and just tried to get it up as quick as I could," Griffith said.
Kane's team-leading seventh goal came on a 2-on-0 rush with Jack Eichel, serving as a textbook example of what the pair can create with their skating. The best part of the play, however, may have been the hesitation move by Eichel to freeze Raanta before passing across to Kane:
Video: BUF@ARI: Kane, Eichel connect for shorthanded goal
The shorthanded goal was Kane's NHL-leading third of the season.
"They're very deadly," Housley said. "The other team has to be aware of that because if they get an opportunity, they don't need many. They've been converting on them."
The Sabres will conclude their road trip against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 8 p.m.