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'Ras did what Ras does' | Dahlin's offense leads Sabres past Devils

5 takeaways from Tuesday's game in New Jersey

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Rasmus Dahlin had two options when the puck deflected off his stick near the offensive blue line during the third period of a 3-3 game in New Jersey on Tuesday. 

Dahlin could have dropped back to defend what would have likely developed into a shorthanded, one-on-two rush for Devils forward Travis Zajac. Or he could make the risky play by pouncing on the loose puck and trying to extend the offensive possession. 

He never hesitated. Dahlin stepped into the play and knocked the puck out of midair away from Zajac, skated through contact from Pavel Zacha and found Casey Mittelstadt for what would stand as the game-winning goal in a 5-3 Sabres victory.  

Video: BUF@NJD: Dahlin wires home wrister past Wedgewood

"That play is exactly why we need him playing with confidence," interim coach Don Granato said afterward. "When you're not confident, you second guess the bounce of that puck, you hesitate and then it's the breakaway the other way. 

"When you're in the zone, you react on instincts and his instincts on incredible."

Dahlin also flashed his skill with a second-period goal as the Sabres extended their point streak to five games (3-0-2) behind a lineup packed with young players stepping into impact opportunities. Mittelstadt tallied two points (1+1) to extend his point streak to four games while Rasmus Asplund tallied his fourth goal of the season. 

Brandon Montour and Rasmus Ristolainen also scored goals. 

Here are five takeaways, beginning with the renewed confidence from Buffalo's 20-year-old defenseman.

Video: Condensed Game: Sabres @ Devils

 

1. Dahlin has the green light

Granato has said he wants his defensemen in motion on offense, an aspect of the Sabres' game that has come more into focus of late. Montour has four goals in the last five games and leads the Sabres with 25 shots since Granato took his post on March 17. 

Few defensemen possess the offensive upside that Dahlin brings to the table, which is why Granato said he has given the third-year blueliner a green light to play to his instincts. 

The confidence has been apparent of late. Dahlin delivered a cross-ice breakout pass to set a 2-on-1 rush in motion that ended with a goal for Mittelstadt against New York on Saturday. He did some puck carrying of his own Tuesday, skating around Nick Merkley and sending a shot far-side for his third goal of the season. 

Video: BUF@NJD: Dahlin wires home wrister past Wedgewood

Mittelstadt said Saturday that Dahlin had made his breakout pass look easier than it really was. He echoed those comments while revisiting the bouncing puck at the blue line that Dahlin corralled to set up the winning goal.

"It was bouncing and Ras just did what Ras does, I guess," he said. 

The Sabres hope to see more of it moving forward.

"We don't win that game without him rising to the level he can rise to," Granato said. "He made a couple of big plays to tip that game back our way and that's what you hope for out of guys with his talent. Special player, fun to watch and very engaged right now."

 

2. Asplund settles in alongside Mittelstadt

The Sabres dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen, with Granato opting to rotate left wingers on a line alongside Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson to begin the game. That lasted about three shifts.

Tobias Rieder got the first look on the line, followed by Jeff Skinner. Asplund came next and settled into a permanent home with the trio, accounting for 9:51 of 5-on-5 ice time with Mittelstadt and Thompson (the most of any Sabres line, according to NaturalStatTrick.com). 

Scoring chances were 4-1 with the group on the ice, including Asplund's goal during the first period. Asplund forced a turnover at the blue line and passed to Mittelstadt, who sent a return pass to set up the one-time goal.

Video: BUF@NJD: Asplund buries one-timer on the rush

"They were very good, they had a lot of energy today," Granato said. "At one moment early in that game, I was wondering if we practiced too hard yesterday. Our guys looked a little heavy footed, a little lethargic. But the young guys did not. They skated. They went through that."

 

3. Mittelstadt "keeps improving" 

Mittelstadt now has points in four straight games as he continues to seize an opportunity at center with Jack Eichel and Curtis Lazar injured and Eric Staal having departed via trade.

Video: POSTGAME: Granato

"He keeps improving," Granato said. "… It's been a progression for Casey as many others and he's engaged in that, trying to add more to his game, looking for more opportunities, seek more opportunity. His confidence is clearly growing as well."

 

4. Rasmus hat trick! 

Ristolainen added an empty-net goal with 1:31 remaining, becoming the third Rasmus of the night to score for the Sabres. 

The last time three players with the same name scored in one game for the Sabres? Mike Foligno, Mike Ramsey, and Mike Hartman in 1989. (Thanks, NHL Stats.)

 

5. The big picture

The Sabres will carry their five-game point streak into the meeting of the season with the Devils in KeyBank Center on Thursday. 

"It's been documented pretty well we had a tough stretch there, but it's good to get rewarded," Mittelstadt said. "We worked hard. … It's good to have guys have smiles on their face and guys having fun. So the last few games have been good. Remember the feeling and keep it going."

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