There was undoubtedly an elephant in the room when the Buffalo Sabres entered the third period of their game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a 3-0 lead at KeyBank Center on Tuesday night. It was, after all, the same lead that the Sabres had squandered in the third period of their last meeting in Philadelphia, when the Flyers scored three times on the power play to storm back in an eventual 4-3 shootout win.
Dan Bylsma admitted his team talked about that October meeting and what had gone wrong prior to the game on Tuesday, and the same points were stressed again in the dressing room before taking the ice for the third period: Stay on top of the puck, stay strong defensively and, perhaps most importantly, stay out of the box.
With the exception of one power play surrendered that allowed Brayden Schenn to score the Flyers' first goal with their goalie pulled and 2:07 remaining, the Sabres did all of those things this time around. Even after Schenn's goal, they remained composed and got an empty-net goal from Marcus Foligno in the waning seconds of a 4-1 victory.
Anders Nilsson, who was the losing goalie in that first meeting with the Flyers, made 39 saves in the victory.
"I think our team game has been improving a lot since the last time we played them," Nilsson said. "You can't take anything for granted. We knew we had a three-goal lead going into the third, we talked about it in the second intermission and said we can't get back on our heels, just need to push for the next goal and get the puck deep. I think we did a pretty good job of doing that."
With the win, the Sabres have earned seven of eight available points in their last four games. The game proved to be the 60-minute effort they've been looking for on home ice; whereas they needed three third-period goals to beat Winnipeg on Saturday, they competed out of the gate and built their lead in the second period of this game.
The Sabres built that 3-0 lead, in fact, against a team that has scored the second-most second-period goals in the NHL,. Sam Reinhart opened the scoring on the power play, William Carrier added another goal less than four minutes later and Evander Kane scored the third goal with just 8.9 seconds left on the clock prior to the second intermission.
Reinhart said he thought the Flyers had actually been controlling the play early in that period, but a change building's energy led to momentum shift on the ice.
"Going into the second, there was a turning point somewhere in there," Reinhart said. "I think it was the crowd getting us back into it. I think after that it was a different game."
Reinhart admitted recently that his current stretch might be the best of his young career, and he only built on that with another strong performance on Tuesday. It was his pass to Justin Bailey through traffic on a 2-on-1 rush that put the Sabres on the power play in the second period, on which he scored after receiving a slap pass from Rasmus Ristolainen down low.
Video: PHI@BUF: Ristolainen sets up Reinhart for PPG in 2nd
Add in Reinhart's primary assists on Kane's and Foligno's goals, and he has 12 points (3+9) in his last 10 games. He also has a team-high 15 primary assists which, according to NHL.com, puts him in a tie for 12th in the NHL. Edmonton's Connor McDavid leads the League with 20.
There was a time this season when things weren't going Reinhart's way, and during those times he maintained his belief in his game and the chances he had been creating. That belief appears to have been validated over this recent stretch of games.
Video: Reinhart: Postgame Interview vs. PHI
"It's easy to get frustrated when things aren't going your way," he said. "But when the chances are there, you know things are going to turn eventually. I think even tonight I could've had a couple more that Jack [Eichel] kind of gave to me and set me up nicely. I think if he keeps finding me I'll be able to put more of them in.
In addition to their good night offensively, the Sabres did a good job of limiting the Flyers scoring chances despite being outshot 40-27. When they did need their goalie, Nilsson was excellent, improving his home record to 5-1-1 with a .947 save percentage and a 1.84 goals-against average.
Video: PHI@BUF: Nilsson gloves Manning's chance in tight
"We played a solid game defensively," Nilsson said. "Even though they had 40 shots, they didn't have too many grade-A scoring chances. I think we did a good job blocking them out and keeping them to the outside lane. Our defensemen made it easier to play, most of the times I had a clear view of the puck."
The win is significant in that it represents a victory over a team the Sabres are currently looking to catch in the standings; they now trail the Flyers by seven points in the wild card race with three games in hand. Their next two opponents both fit that billing: The Sabres trail the Tampa Bay Lightning, who they'll meet Thursday, by one point and the Carolina Hurricanes, who they'll play on Friday, by four.
"I think you've got to keep pushing to be better and be better at what you do," Bylsma said. "We did some good things tonight, there's no question about that. There were a lot of good things in the way we want to play and you saw that in the second period
"… We got a win tonight. We're not going to stop trying to get better in how we play and how we want to play. You enjoy the win, you enjoy getting the two points, and then you've got to move on to a big game against Tampa Bay."
Carrier, sick no more
Carrier was returning from a two-game absence with the flu - Bylsma said he had lost and then regained 13 pounds in the process - and he played with the speed and physicality of a man who looked like he was itching to get back. His goal began play with good puck movement in the neutral zone from him to Ryan O'Reilly. He then sped down the left wing and scored on a rebound off of Taylor Fedun's slap shot from the point.
Video: PHI@BUF: Carrier buries rebound off Fedun's slapper
The goal was the second of Carrier's career and his first since Nov. 19.
"I'm just keeping [with] the way I've been playing," he said. "I've been having some chances, I couldn't really finish the last couple of games but I felt good today."
In addition to Reinhart, the Sabres had a handful of other players who kept hot streaks alive with big performances. Kane's goal was his 10th in the last 17 games and his team-leading ninth at 5-on-5 strength, while Foligno finding the back of the empty net gives him goals in three straight games.
O'Reilly, meanwhile, had two assists for a third straight two-point performance. He has seven points (1+6) in his last six games overall.
The Sabres will play the first of back-to-back games on the road when they meet the Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday night. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.