Dan Bylsma couldn't help but think back to Nashville. It wasn't even two weeks ago that the Buffalo Sabres, still within close proximity of a playoff berth, led the Predators 4-2 on home ice only to fall in overtime. They'd lost all but one of their games since, leading up to the moment they walked into the dressing room trailing 3-0 after the first period against Columbus on Saturday night.
Even more so than the goals themselves, Bylsma had been disappointed with his team's attachment to Saturday's game in the first 20 minutes, particularly after having just barely lost the same team one night prior. So, with that Nashville game on his mind, the coach made an appeal to his players.
Video: Condensed Game: Blue Jackets @ Sabres
"I said this happened to us in our building two weeks ago," Bylsma said. "It's time we need to do it the other way, which we did."
Jake McCabe called it "swagger." Evander Kane opted for "character." Whatever it was, the Sabres came out looking like a new team in the second period and battled back for a 5-3 victory, ending with Jack Eichel's empty-net goal in the game's final seconds. It was a fight both in the figurative sense (erasing a three-goal deficit against one of the League's best teams) and literal (19 penalties were assessed).
McCabe, Matt Moulson and Sam Reinhart all scored goals in the second period to tie the game at 3-3, while Kane capitalized on a crossing feed from Eichel to net the game-winning goal on the power play with 2:29 remaining in regulation.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Kane tallies late go-ahead power-play goal
The comeback wouldn't have been possible if not for a remarkable performance from Robin Lehner, who entered in relief of Anders Nilsson to begin the second period and stopped all 24 of the shots he faced.
It was fitting that McCabe was the one to jolt the comeback for the Sabres, as he was one of the players who had admittedly struggled to begin the game. He had been beaten by Nick Foligno on Columbus' second goal, and was directly involved with the play that led to the odd-man rush on which Oliver Bjorkstand scored the third goal for the Blue Jackets.
It took just 18 seconds in the second period for McCabe to earn his redemption, putting the Sabres on the board with a shot from left circle. His goal was followed by a successful penalty kill for Buffalo (which went 3-for-3 after allowing two goals on Friday) and then a power-play goal from Moulson a few minutes later.
Video: MCCABE: Postgame
Reinhart scored to tie the game with 2.9 seconds left on the clock, beating Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo with a shot between the pads.
"We just came in the first intermission, a couple guys spoke up a little bit," McCabe said. "We knew what we had to do and went out and executed it."
In the span of time between Moulson's and Reinhart's goals, Lehner had arguably already done enough to cement himself as one of the game's three stars. In what he said was his first relief appearance in years, he entered with the mindset of just wanting to stop the first puck and then go from there. He'd end up stopping all of them, including several worthy of the highlight-reel.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Lehner denies Gagner with his left pad
Lehner's best save would come with 33.4 seconds left in regulation, after Kane had scored the go-ahead goal but before Eichel padded the lead with his empty-netter. Cam Atkinson was staring down a wide-open net, but Lehner came across to swallow the puck just ahead of the goal line.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Lehner reacts quickly for game-saving stop
"He stepped in in a big way for us," Bylsma said. "Maybe the best he's looked all year in net."
The game certainly seemed liked a statement by the Sabres, yet another example of what the young team is capable of when they strike consistency. It was also the latest comeback in a season full of them for a team that never seems to count itself out.
"I just think we came out as a new team again and just had a good period," Lehner said. "That's what we preached and tried to talk about all year, tried to make it more consistent. We've showed against good teams all year long that we can play with them. I think no matter what, you look in the standings or what not, the whole year we've been in games.
"We didn't' give up," he continued. "We're not going to give up on the season either."
Deslauriers brings a spark
When Kane was asked after the game what provided the energy for Buffalo's comeback, it didn't take long for him to mention Nicolas Deslauriers' name. Deslauriers was on the ice with the top line to begin the second period, and he set up McCabe's goal with a backhand pass from behind the net.
Video: Postgame Show: Evander Kane
What made Bylsma put Deslauriers on the ice?
"I wanted some passion and energy in the game injected at the start of the second period," the coach said. "I didn't necessarily think it was going to come in the form of a backhand pass behind the net … To his credit, he gave it. It energized our team. Not just the play, not just the goa, but the play from him."
After going pointless in 34 games entering Friday, Deslauriers now has assists in back-to-back games.
The Sabres will head west for a three-game road trip in California, beginning when they meet the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Tuesday night. Buffalo came away with a 5-4 win in overtime when the two teams last met in Buffalo on Feb. 7.
Coverage on Tuesday begins at 10 p.m. EST with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Sharks at 10:30.
You can catch the Sabres back at home on March 21, when they host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tickets for that game are available here.