Backed by a 38-save shutout performance from Robin Lehner, the Sabres penalty kill went 6-for-6 in their 4-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Jamie McGinn scored twice, David Legwand added a shorthanded tally and rookie Sam Reinhart took over the team lead with his 18th goal of the season.
Lehner recorded his shutout as a Sabre, the third of his career and his first since Jan. 14, 2014. Lehner now has a .932 save percentage and a 2.30 goals-against average through 12 games played this season.
He had to come up big on numerous occasions for Buffalo, including on some prime scoring chances early in the third period when it was a two-goal game that could have easily turned in the Blue Jackets' favor.
"He's an outstanding goalie and he was definitely on tonight," McGinn said. "You could tell he's in the game when he's getting into scrums at the end. He's ready to go with anyone.
"He's a special guy to be around. He's a character and I'm definitely very happy for him with the way he played and for the boys to get that shutout for him tonight because he stood on his end all night long. He worked extremely hard."
Over the last 20 games, the Sabres have killed off 53 of 58 penalties (.914 efficiency) and are 14-for-14 over their past three games.
Lehner has a reputation for being a very vocal goaltender, so when asked what's been working on the penalty kill, Lehner cited communication.
"The penalty kill ever since I started playing [after coming back from injury] has been phenomenal. We're all on the same page. We're communicating," he said. "They're listening to what I'm saying out there and we're all on the same page."
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma pointed out that Lehner not only tries to lift his teammates on the ice, but during stoppages and TV timeouts as well.
"He's an engaged goalie, maybe the most engaged goalie I've been able to coach. He was certainly engaged tonight," Bylsma said. "He was on his game. He was strong. Even in the third period when we needed a bump from how we were playing, he was the guy coming to the bench and providing that. I'm just happy we got the zero for him. I'm glad we got the shutout for him."
Those scrums McGinn was referring to came as a result of a hit made by Boone Jenner on Zach Bogosian with 8:30 remaining in the third period. As Bogosian skated to get a loose puck behind the net, he was caught off-balance and then put into the dasher by Jenner. He was cut on the play and left the game. Jenner received a five-minute hooking major and a game misconduct.
In the ensuing scrum, Lehner skated out to mix it up with Jack Johnson and was instead hit with two minors – one for leaving the crease and another for roughing.
"It's the first time I've had a goalie have four penalty minutes and a shutout," Bylsma said.
The Sabres were already short a defenseman because Cody Franson had to exit the game with 3:05 left in the second when he took a hit into the boards by Scott Hartnell.
On that play, Franson went to retrieve a puck behind the Buffalo net and turned to look behind him. He then moved in along the end boards to protect the puck and was hit from behind into the glass by Hartnell, who was subsequently whistled for a five-minute boarding major.
Bylsma said Franson appeared to be "a bit woozy" when coming to the bench, but didn't have an immediate update on his status.
Buffalo could've broken the game open there, but things didn't quite work out that way. Thirty seconds into that power play, Rasmus Ristolainen was called for interference as Jack Eichel carried the puck in over the blue line. The situation didn't get much better for Buffalo as they then found themselves shorthanded for 1:19 when Marcus Foligno was sent to the box for high sticking.
And then at the end of the period – with eight seconds left in Foligno's penalty and 1:56 on the major – Evander Kane was assessed a tripping minor.
The Blue Jackets ended up only needing to kill 30 seconds of Hartnell's five-minute major and had 1:31 of power-play time.
A STRANGE, FORTUNATE BOUNCE
The penalty kill also contributed some offense at a crucial point in the game. Sabres scored both of their first-period goals on special teams.
The Sabres have scored some strange goals in Columbus over the past few years. And they've had success while shorthanded at Nationwide Arena. Christian Ehrhoff and Foligno each scored while on the penalty kill in a 5-2 win on Jan. 25, 2014. Zemgus Girgensons did so as well last season when the Sabres won 4-2 on Feb. 24.
So leave it to Legwand to score another memorable shorty in the Biggest Small Town In America. On a long clear from the top of the right faceoff circle in the Sabres zone, Legwand sent the puck high and on net.
And while baseball players will soon be scooping up groundballs during spring training, Korpisalo let the long one-hopper sneak past him for Buffalo's second goal with 1:22 remaining in the first period.
"It’s something that's a lot of luck," Legwand said. "Obviously you throw a puck on the net but you throw it on the net because there's nothing else to do there, it does have a chance."
After the puck went in, Legwand skated right to the bench, where he was mobbed at the door by his teammates. It was Legwand's 11th shorthanded goal of his career and his first since May 7, 2011, a playoff game when he was with Nashville.
"No one knows how to make that bounce like that. It always has a chance if it's on net," he said. "We've seen them go in like that all year so why not take a chance on it there?"
The Sabres will practice at home on Saturday in preparation for their Sunday afternoon match against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The NBC-televised game is set for 12:30 p.m. from First Niagara Center.