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Three-goal period propels Sabres to win over Flames

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Entering their game against the Calgary Flames on Monday night, it had been 21 days since the Buffalo Sabres last scored three goals in a game. Not only did they reach that feat against said Flames, but thanks to a few quick penalties, they scored three goals in less than two minutes.

Kyle Okposo scored to tie the game during a 5-on-3 power play with 8:33 remaining in the second period, Johan Larsson scored the go-ahead goal before the remaining penalty expired and Matt Moulson added a third power-play goal 1:05 later as the Sabres went on to earn a 4-2 win at KeyBank Center.

The victory was Buffalo's second in the row, building off of a 2-1 shootout win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

"We got down in the game early in the first period early," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It felt like we were squeezing it pretty hard to try to come up with an opportunity to score. We had a number of plays mishandled and we got the power-play opportunity that turned into a 5-on-3 … It was a great chance for us to get some goal scorers and get some guys that we needed to on the board."

Indeed, the Sabres were already 0-for-1 on the power play and trailing 1-0 when Evander Kane and Rasmus Ristolainen drew concurrent minor penalties in the second period. First, it was Kane who drew a delayed slashing call against Dougie Hamilton along the boards after carrying the puck behind the net through the offensive zone. Before the whistle blew, another penalty was called against Troy Brouwer for tripping Ristolainen near the net.

Because the Sabres and Flames were playing 4-on-4 when the penalties were assessed, the Sabres had to wait 40 seconds for their two-man advantage. Once they got it, they quickly capitalized against the League's 29th-ranked penalty kill. Okposo scored his sixth goal of the season with a shot from the slot, leaving 1:16 of power-play time for Johan Larsson to redirect a shot from Kane between the pads of goalie Brian Elliott to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead.

Video: CGY@BUF: Sabres net back-to-back power-play goals

"It was nice to get off the shine a little bit for everybody and after we got that second goal it was big," Okposo said afterward. "I just think we had a little bit of time. We got some good breaks. It was a little bit of a smorgasbord, some of the set things that we wanted to do weren't happening so we were just kind of improvising and using our hockey sense."

Only 53 seconds had passed after Larsson's goal when Brouwer returned to the box for interference, and only 12 more seconds passed after that by the time Moulson scored from in tight on a crossing feed from Okposo. The goal was Moulson's team-leading seventh of the season and League-leading sixth on the power play. 

"We had some good puck movement that led to getting guys open and had some good looks out there," Moulson said. "We put them away."

Not only did the onslaught of goals mark a significant breakout for an offense that has struggled without its top two centers in November, it allowed the Sabres to play the defensive style of game that made them successful against Pittsburgh on Saturday. Mikael Backlund scored for Calgary on a 3-on-1 rush after the Sabres committed a turnover on their own odd-man rush, but those kinds of quality chances were otherwise limited for the Flames.

Robin Lehner earned the win in net for the Sabres with 29 saves.

"I think we talked a lot about how we wanted to play and getting back to our team identity. I think Robin was stellar again tonight," Moulson said. "We gave up some chances but I think eliminating the really good-look, odd-man rushes - other than the first goal which is kind of a bad bounce off on our own odd-man rush - I think we're doing a lot better job of that."

The difference between this win and the one over the Penguins was that it didn't take a shootout for the Sabres to earn that elusive second goal. The rest is simple math: More goals equals more DJ Kool, which equals more noise in the joint from the Sabres' faithful.

"It's nice," Moulson said. "I think the fans probably enjoyed it so it was a good way to get a win."


A major penalty kill

The Sabres found themselves on the opposite side of a 5-on-3 advantage for 37 seconds late in the second period after Josh Gorges was called for cross-checking while William Carrier was already in the box for holding. They were able to kill the penalty and preserve their two-goal lead heading into the second intermission.

"That was a point in the game where you felt like they were gonna get a power play and you felt like maybe they were going to get their 5-on-3, which they did," Bylsma said. "Our penalty killers had to come up real big … [Jake McCabe] and Larsson were out there on the top against their one-timers and it was a big point in the game for us."


Foligno's responds … again

Twenty seconds of Gorges' penalty carried over into the third period, which the Sabres killed. Two seconds after that, however, Matthew Tkachuk scored to bring the Flames back within one goal and swing the momentum of the games.

What happened from that point on could have been much different had it not been for Marcus Foligno, who scored his fourth goal of the season just 2:13 into the period to restore Buffalo's two-goal lead and with that its confidence. 

Sam Reinhart won a battle along the boards and fed Foligno as he skated across the net. Foligno deked as he drifted wide to the right of the net and shuffled a backhand shot in past Elliott for his fourth goal of the season. The assist for Reinhart was his second of the game.

Video: CGY@BUF: Foligno stays with the play, slides one home

"I thought it was a huge goal for our team," Bylsma said. "We thought we set ourselves for a third period exactly where we wanted to be, holding the lead and playing the right way in the third period. They come out and get that goal right after the power play and it becomes a bit of a tight feel on the bench, a tight feel in our game. For that line to go out and for Marcus to get us that goal, it was a huge goal for us."

If you felt a bit of déjà vu on the goal, don't worry. Moulson described Foligno as "willing the shot" into the net, which is precisely how his goal in Calgary on Oct. 18 was described. In that game, the Sabres gave up an early third-period goal and Foligno answered with this:

Video: BUF@CGY: Foligno eludes defenders, scores on wrister

If you need a momentum swing in the third period, play Marcus Foligno. 

Risto changes his stick

Ristolainen's tendency to break his sticks on shots from the point is likely at least part of the reason for him remaining without a goal so far this season. He broke another stick in the first period on Monday, and then he received no ice time during the Sabres' first power-play attempt, which is highly unusual considering he leads the team in power-play ice time this season.

Ristolainen was back on Buffalo's next three power plays, however, albeit with a different stick from the one he had been using all season prior. Bylsma neither confirmed nor denied that he asked Ristolainen to change his stick, but the results speak for themselves. The Sabres scored on the remaining three power plays, and Ristolainen ended up with five shot attempts and an assist.


Up next

The Sabres will close their four-game homestand with a chance to pull their record back to .500 on Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. Individual tickets are still available, or you can purchase a four-ticket "Family Pack" here. 

If you're unable to make it downtown, coverage of the game begins with the TOPS Pregame Show at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B. You can also listen live on WGR 550, with puck drop set for 7 p.m.

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