Going hard to the net paid off on several occasions for the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, leading them to their first win of the season at home.
Gritty goals by Brian Flynn and Chris Stewart helped pave the way for Buffalo’s 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings at First Niagara Center.
Michal Neuvirth made 36 saves in overtime and regulation and sealed the win by stopping Henrik Zetterberg in the bottom of the third round of the shootout. Zemgus Girgensons roofed the eventual game-deciding goal over Jimmy Howard in the top of the third round.
“It was a great win against a great team, especially on home ice, it feels really good,” Neuvirth, who had an emotionally charged celebration after the final save, said.
With the win, Michal Neuvirth improved to 2-5-0 with a .925 save percentage in seven games with the Sabres.
The trio of Girgensons, Josh Gorges and Tyler Myers were workhorses for Buffalo in overtime.
The Sabres found themselves shorthanded when captain Brian Gionta was called for hooking 46 seconds into the extra period. Nolan relied on Gorges, Myers and Girgensons to get the job done.
The Red Wings thought they won the game with 2:32 remaining in overtime when Henrik Zetterberg’s slap shot found its way into the back of the net through a screen. However, the officials immediately waved it off because Johan Franzen had established his position in the crease before the puck was there.
Neuvirth said he wasn’t surprised by the call because he had talked to the officials a few times about the potential goaltender interference. Neuvirth was told that if it happened during a goal, it was going to be called back. He was happy to see the officials make the right call.
“He was in my face the whole night and I had a tough time finding the pucks from the blue line,” Neuvirth said. “But we worked hard and it paid off.”
The Sabres killed off the penalty and in that five-minute overtime, Myers ended up with 3:37 of ice time, Gorges skated 3:19 and Girgensons logged 3:13.
“It’s a 4-on-3. That’s never easy and me, Gorgy and Mysey, we were stuck out there for a while and Neuvy made some clutch saves there,” Girgensons said.
Girgensons went 6-for-8 on draws in the third period and in overtime. He was just 1-for-11 after two. He found himself lined up against Pavel Datsyuk for much of the night.
"That overtime, they might have had control of our zone. Zetterberg and Datsyuk and those guys, they’re world-premier players. We kept them to the outside and they’re hard to contain," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "To get a win like that against a team like that is definitely good."
IF YOU START ME UP
Stewart’s long-awaited first goal of the season came at the right time for the Sabres. Down a goal with 6:52 to play, he came off the bench and hung around in front of the net as the play developed around him.
Defenseman Tyson Strachan worked the puck down low and won a battle that eventually saw the puck swing behind the net to Tyler Ennis. Stewart made eye contact with Ennis, took the pass and ended up barreling into the crease. The puck ended up in the back of the net to tie the game.
Stewart was quick to credit Strachan’s efforts and Ennis’ pass.
“He put it right on my stick. I got it off pretty heavy and I almost thought about head-butting it in and it rolled up and eventually it went in,” he said. “You need some luck to score some goals.”
With two assists, Strachan recorded his first career multi-point game.
It was Stewart’s first goal as a Sabre and his first since Jan. 9, back when he was with St. Louis.
He hopes it’s the first of many for him this season and that he can really get going now that the first one is finally out of the way.
Buffalo opened the scoring 6:55 into the second on a strong play from Girgensons. Skating down the left wing, he drove it on goal and picked up his own rebound off of Howard’s right pad. He then tried a wrap around, but lost the puck on the other side. Flynn was there to chip it in top shelf for his first of the season.
“It was great job by Flynny driving to the net,” Girgensons said. “That’s what we’ve been lacking throughout the whole season, just getting the second man to the net and banging for those loose pucks.”
HOLD YOUR HEAD UP
The Sabres got off to a strong start and skated into the first intermission scoreless. However, the Red Wings applied a lot of pressure in the second and the Sabres managed to get out of that period tied 1-1.
Detroit’s first goal came courtesy of Tomas Tatar. Buffalo’s skaters got caught on the ice for an extended shift and couldn’t change. Myers, Gorges, Stewart, Cody Hodgson and Johan Larsson’s shift lasted 2:01 and ended with the Red Wings’ tying goal.
Datsyuk scored on the rush 4:27 into the third to take a 2-1 lead and that could have really taken the wind out of the Sabres’ sails. But they were able to prevail and Nolan hopes it’s the start of them developing better habits.
“In the second, I thought we put down our heads a little wee-bit like we did before. But we rose them up a little bit quicker this time. It’s part of that process,” he said. “We need guys like Stewart to do exactly that for us. You look at Girgensons’ game here tonight, I think we played almost the whole five minutes in overtime.”
Playing a more tenacious and relentless style is what Stewart would like to see him and his teammates do more consistently. He liked the way they rebounded in this game and from a tough loss on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
“In the third, once we were down, we started to get back on our toes and started getting pucks in, controlling the forecheck and going hard to the net,” he said. “That has to be the team we are. We can’t sit back on our heels. We have to get on our toes and get pucks to the net.”
The Sabres continue their four-game homestand Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens, who lost 6-2 to the Calgary Flames on Sunday.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. from First Niagara Center.