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BYLSMA: 'WE'RE STARTING TO DEVELOP A BELIEF THAT WE CAN WIN AND HOW WE CAN WIN'

by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Buffalo Sabres have a chance to make it back to .500 on Thursday with a win over the Florida Panthers. After starting the season 2-6-0, they’ve been able to put together some good games and are on a stretch in which they’ve won four of their past five games and five of their past seven.

“I don’t want to talk about big games in November and keep talking about them, but it is a big opportunity for us to get a win on the road and get back to .500,” coach Dan Bylsma said after practice Wednesday at BB&T Center.

Those five wins have come in varying degrees of fashion. And they’ve even had opportunities to stay in the games they lost. Here’s a look at those past seven games:

1. Zemgus Girgensons scored in overtime on Oct. 27 in Philadelphia to lift the Sabres over the Flyers 4-3. He was sprung for a breakaway following a highlight-reel save from goaltender Chad Johnson. That win ensured the Sabres didn’t lose three games in a row for the first time this season.

2. Buffalo closed out that Pennsylvania road trip with a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins two days later. The Sabres put 53 shots on goal and came back from a two-goal deficit to tie the game, but couldn’t capitalize to even the score late.

3. The next night, they saw the Flyers again and won 3-1 thanks to a three-point night from alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly and 27 saves from Linus Ullmark in his first-career victory.

4. On Nov. 1, the team traveled to Brooklyn and scored twice in the third period to defeat the New York Islanders 2-1. Sam Reinhart picked up the game winner in that one.

5. Buffalo saw Tampa Bay for the third time in a month and fell behind 3-0 after the first period at home on Nov. 5. While having chances to come back, that game ended up a 4-1 final.

6. On Saturday, overcame a disappointing first period as Rasmus Ristolainen scored with 16.8 seconds remaining in regulation to lift the Sabres 3-2 over the Vancouver Canucks.

7. The Sabres closed out their season series with the Lightning in Tampa, winning 4-1 on Tuesday. Jack Eichel and Cody Franson each had a goal and an assist and Johnson made another spectacular save on the goal line to preserve the lead.

“We’re playing well, doing some good things but we’re just finding ways to win,” captain Brian Gionta said. “By no means are they mistake-free games, but we’ve had some good goaltending and we’ve found ways to battle through and get wins.”

For Bylsma, the biggest difference between the first eight games and the last seven has been the team’s attitude.

“We’re starting to develop a belief that we can win and how we’re going to win,” he said. “Early in the season, we played well. We did some good things. But we might not have had the belief that we could win hockey games.”

He cited the fifth game of the season in which the Sabres lost 2-1 to the Lightning in Tampa. Bylsma thought they played better in that game than in their 4-1 win on Tuesday, but that at that time, they perhaps didn’t have the mindset that they could come back to win. The rally in Brooklyn is one example of how the team has gained confidence in tight games.

“We bought in a little more. I think we’re playing way better,” forward Nicolas Deslauriers said.

Deslauriers also noted how the team’s forecheck and wall play have been better recently. That’s led to more offensive opportunities and increased zone time.

“As a D-man, you don’t want to go get that puck when you’ve got two guys coming for you,” he said. “We just need to stay in the structure and last game was probably one of our top games on the forecheck. We just need to build off that.”

Heading into Thursday’s contest against the Panthers, the Sabres will be seeking a better start. They went down early in the last game between the two teams back on Oct. 15. Jaromir Jagr scored twice in a 3-2 win.

Overall though, the last little stretch of games has helped the Sabres believe that they can overcome mistakes and battle through 60 minutes for a good shot at earning two points.

“We feel good. We feel like we’re in the game and regardless of what the score is, we still have a chance,” Gionta said. “That’s what you want from your team, is whether you’re trailing 3-1 or you’re up 2-1, you have a good chance of winning that game.”

Faceoff on Thursday is set for 7:30 p.m. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 7 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on ESPN 1520.


INJURY UPDATE
Bylsma said after practice that defenseman Mike Weber returned to Buffalo to be further evaluated for the lower-body injury he sustained Saturday against Vancouver. Weber practiced Monday but left Tuesday’s morning skate early. He did not play against Tampa.

The Sabres have no plans to recall a defenseman for Thursday’s game as they have six healthy bodies now and, in case of emergency, they can give Deslauriers some shifts on the blue line.

Weber was the only Sabre on the active roster who missed practice.

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