It took them until the final seconds of their eighth power play of the night, but the Buffalo Sabres were able to finally breathe a sigh of relief when Jack Eichel lofted a wrister from the blue line over the shoulder of Jonas Hiller in the third period on Thursday night.
The goal was the first for Eichel since Feb. 14 and the first for the power play in 16 attempts. But it was the fifth for the Sabres on Thursday and provided welcomed insurance in a 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames at First Niagara Center.
"It's a smart shot, it's a quality shot, there's a screen [from Sam Reinhart] and the goalie doesn’t see it," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "But to have that one go in from the blue line and find its way to the top corner, certainly a sigh of relief I think for all of us - for Jack, for the power play, and really to gain a margin against them and get the victory."
The Sabres hadn't been able to capitalize on their power-play opportunities – which included two 5-on-3 advantages – to that point, but their scoring really woke up in the second period.
Down 1-0 on a goal from Calgary's Mikael Backlund, Rasmus Ristolainen tied the game 10:18 in and Marcus Foligno and Nicolas Deslauriers added goals before the period's end. Foligno finished with the shorthanded tally and a pair of assists for the second three-point game of the season.
Johan Larsson received a feed from Brian Gionta in front of the net, turned and flipped the puck past Hiller off his backhand to break a 3-3 tie 9:31 into the third period and Evander Kane capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 1:31 remaining. Eichel and Kane are now tied with Reinhart for the team lead in goals with 18 each.
Buffalo's six goals against the Flames were more than the team had compiled in its last four games combined, a stretch in which it lost three times despite allowing just six goals.
"It's big," Eichel said afterward. "Hopefully we can build some confidence, we've been a little bit snake bit with the goals lately so it's good to see guys find the back of the net."
The action-filled second period was quite the departure from a slow first in which the Sabres took only eight shots despite having two power-play opportunities and the Flames didn't record their first shot until 17 minutes had passed.
"I didn’t feel like there was a lot of emotion in the game at that point on either side of the ledger," Bylsma said. "We had a couple power plays and didn’t capitalize on getting those opportunities and that was something we talked about on the bench was getting emotion in the game.
"I don’t know if them scoring a goal did it for us but we did get in the game and kind of take over with how we played in the second period there."
Robin Lehner made 26 saves to earn the win in net for Buffalo, while Hiller allowed five goals on 34 shots for Calgary.
The Sabres improved to 16-3-2 in their last 21 home games against the Flames, with the last regulation loss coming on March 15, 1996.
A WILD END TO THE SECOND PERIOD
After Backlund and Ristolainen traded goals in the second to force a 1-1 tie, a three-goal spurt between the two teams happened in a span of 1:17 later in the period. The Sabres came away with two of those goals, emerging with a 3-2 lead heading into intermission.
The scoring outbreak began when Deslauriers was called for interference with 5:16 remaining in the period. Midway through the penalty, Foligno caught the puck off the wall in the neutral zone and deked around Flames defenseman TJ Brodie 1-on-1 and lifted the puck past Hiller for a shorthanded goal.
It was quite the move coming from a guy called "Moose."
"Just something I thought of to do," Foligno said. "Penalty kill, you've got a 1-on-1 situation … just a little bit of desperate hockey. You can pull that move once in a while and tonight it worked."
"I told him never to do it again," Bylsma said, smiling. "Now the scouting report will be out on Marcus … high in the right corner of the net is where he's going."
Dougie Hamilton scored with the Flames still on the power play 15 seconds later to tie the game again, however, sniping a shot over Lehner's shoulder from the right-wing circle. It was Deslauriers who responded next, taking a feed from Zach Bogosian and scoring with a wrister from the left circle 1:12 later.
The Sabres' willingness to fight carried into the third period, when Larsson scored the eventual game-winner after Sean Monahan had tied the game yet again. Foligno said that the Sabres' ability to score on Thursday should give them confidence going forward.
"Yeah, and obviously I think the way we battled tonight [can] too," said Foligno, who know has seven points (4+3) in his last five home games. "They go up and then we battle back, they tie it again after the penalty kill goal that got us a lot of momentum and then we had [Deslauriers] put one in that was a beauty. It just kind of kept rolling from there."
The Sabres will conclude their three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Minnesota Wild at First Niagara Center. It will be the second and final meeting between the two teams, with the Sabres having won a 3-2 contest in Minnesota on Jan. 12.
Coverage on Saturday begins at 12:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.