Never, ever count the Buffalo Sabres out of a game in their own building.
If the Sabres hadn't proved that on Dec. 1, or Dec. 6, or on Jan. 7, they certainly proved it in their 5-4 win over the San Jose Sharks at KeyBank Center on Tuesday night. Buffalo rallied back from a 4-1 deficit midway through third period on the strength of consecutive goals from Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo just 3:28 apart.
At that point, all that was left was winning the game in overtime, which they accomplished when Jack Eichel fed Kane for his second goal of the night on a 2-on-1 rush just 1:05 into the extra period.
Video: SJS@BUF: Eichel, Kane combine for awesome game-winner
"It's probably the worst we've played and gotten a win," Okposo said. "But in saying that, we never gave up and it's a huge win for us. We've got to get two points. We've been saying it for a couple months, we've got to find ways to win games. I guess that's one of the ways."
Although Buffalo did get the first goal of the game on the power play from Matt Moulson, the Sharks showed why they're the reigning Western Conference champions for the better part of the first two periods. They received goals from throughout their lineup, beginning when the All-Star Brent Burns took a shot that Joel Ward deflected into the net with 5:57 still remaining in the first period. San Jose took the lead prior to the first intermission thanks to a goal by Logan Couture.
For a while, it seemed like Couture's goal might stand as the game winner. San Jose added another goal, from Melker Karlsson, while outshooting Buffalo 14-8 in the second period. When the Sabres started to push in the third, the Sharks went on the power play and got their fourth goal from Joe Pavelski. At that point, only 13:53 remained.
Power plays had been scarce for the Sabres as of late - they'd had one in their last two games - and it was a penalty to Burns that seemed to give them the life they needed in the final period. On the ensuing power play, Eichel fed O'Reilly for a one-time goal to put the Sabres on the board.
Video: SJS@BUF: O'Reilly nets PPG from slot on his birthday
Before O'Reilly scored, goalie Anders Nilsson was on his way off the ice thanks to delayed call against Karlsson for throwing his stick. The Sabres wouldn't score on that power play, but they carried momentum and Kane scored his first goal of the night 33 seconds later, wrapping around the net and squeezing a backhand shot past Sharks goalie Martin Jones.
Video: SJS@BUF: Kane slams a wraparound past Jones
The Sharks challenged that the play was offside, inciting a lengthy review. As time pressed on, different memories came to mind for the Sabres, who've rarely seen results go their way since the coach's challenge was introduced at the beginning of last season. For Kane, the memory that came to mind was his goal on opening night in 2015-16, his first game as a Sabre, which was called back after being ruled offside.
For coach Dan Bylsma, the memory was a challenge in a loss to Dallas last month that was ruled inconclusive.
"We were just hoping we heard the word 'inconclusive' on our bench again for a change in our favor," Bylsma said.
They did. Kane's goal stood, and it took less than a minute after that for Sam Reinhart to feed Okposo, stationed to the left of the net, for the game-tying goal.
Video: SJS@BUF: Okposo powers game-tying goal past Jones
"It was a great play by Sammy, he just drove wide and we had 3-on-2 and Ryan did a great job backing the D off," Okposo said. "He made a great pass to me and I had all day, luckily I found a little opening in there."
"We looked like we didn't have a lot of jump and we didn't have a lot of energy for a lot of that game," Bylsma said. "I thought we poured it one there in the last 10 minutes and we kind of outplayed them, out chanced them and it culminated with the play from Sam to Kyle for the fourth goal. I thought we were going to win the game in regulation with the way we were playing."
If Bylsma was confident then, imagine how the coach must have felt while watching his two fastest skaters bust of out of the defensive zone with the puck in the 3-on-3 overtime. As Bylsma noted after the game, the two players chasing Eichel and Kane - Couture and top-line forward Tomas Hertl - aren't slow in their own right, but there are few players who can match Eichel and Kane's speed on the rush.
"No, not at all," Kane said. "That's not being cocky, that's just being honest. I saw him coming around the net I knew just to get to the middle of the ice. He was going to beat his man, I was going to beat mine and he was able to feather one through and I was able to put it away."
On this occasion, Kane might have been going too fast even for his own good. After roofing the game-winner on Eichel's feed, he crashed headfirst into the end boards. He did say he felt fine afterward.
As happy as the Sabres were with the win, there was still a lesson to be learned from the way they played in the third versus the first two periods against one of the League's premier teams. Eichel rattled off the list of things they did well: playing fast on the forecheck, defensemen pinching aggressively down the wall, generating second chances.
"I just think that that's how we need to play for 60 minutes," Eichel said. "If we do that, we'll be a real hard team to beat."
Notes & numbers
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, tonight's comeback was the latest the Sabres have overcome a deficit of three or more goals since Nov. 2, 2006 in Boston, when the team began a comeback with 8:59 remaining in the third period that culminated in 5-4 shootout win. Maxim Afinogenov scored twice in the third period of that game, setting up Ales Kotalik to tie the game with 1:35 remaining.
Per Sabres PR, this was also the first time the Sabres erased a three-goal deficit since their 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Dec. 27, 2014. The goal scorers in that game were Nicolas Deslauriers, Zemgus Girgensons and Chris Stewart. Okposo actually had two assists, but they were for New York.
Kane's two goals on Tuesday give him 14 at even strength since Dec. 3, the most in the NHL in that span.
Tyler Ennis, meanwhile, extended his point streak to four games (1+3) with his assist on Moulson's goal in the first period.
Sabres host You Can Play Night
It was "You Can Play Night" at KeyBank Center, an evening dedicated to promoting the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes in sports. Many Sabres used special Pride Tape on their sticks during pregame warmups, which you can bid for now on nhl.com/auctions.
You can watch the two videos that were shown for You Can Play Night below, including a message from the Sabres and a feature on Harrison Browne, a forward for the Buffalo Beauts of the NWHL.
Video: Sabres support You Can Play
Video: You Can Play: Harrison Browne
The Sabres continue their busy stretch at home against another Pacific Division opponent when they host the Anaheim Ducks at KeyBank Center on Thursday night. It will be the first meeting between the two teams this season.
Coverage on Thursday 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 Ducks at 7 p.m.