SUNRISE, Fla. –
The final minute was a scramble, but the Buffalo Sabres found a way to get the job done.
Trying to preserve a one-goal lead in the third period, the Sabres had to hold back a heavy attack by the Florida Panthers. Linus Ullmark had to stay sharp and literally use his head. With about 40 seconds to play, Dmitry Kulikov took a shot from the right wing and the puck hit Ullmark right in the mask.
Ullmark made three big saves in that last minute and 36 on the night as the Sabres hung on to win 3-2 on Thursday at BB&T Center.
“I really didn’t see the puck all the time. I was flopping around there in my crease, just trying to get something in the lane,” Ullmark said. “Thank God I have a big head.”
Brian Gionta, Cody Franson and Sam Reinhart scored for Buffalo, who have now won five of their past six games and six of their past eight. However despite that success, the Sabres are still finding areas in which they feel they need to improve.
“The great feeling right now is that we won – we’re happy we won – but we’re not satisfied,” forward Tyler Ennis said. “In the last couple years, we’d just take any win, but we can improve a lot. That wasn’t a great game by us.”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has been impressed with the team’s resolve recently and Thursday’s win was another example of that.
“I think our guys, again, really believe in developing a belief in how we need to play and if we play that way, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win hockey games and that we can do it every night,” he said. “I think we’re doing that. I think we’re fighting that way and I think we’re doing that right now in that regard.”
Buffalo improved their record to 8-8-0 on the season and have won in various ways.
“You look around the League and the good teams, when they’re not playing their best, they can still find ways to win,” Reinhart said. “I think that was important for our group to learn that even if we aren’t at our best, we can find ways to win.”
Two late-period goals helped the Sabres onto the victory.
Gionta tallied his first goal of the season with 31.5 seconds remaining in the first period. Parked in the right faceoff dot, he one-timed in a pass from behind the net from Matt Moulson.
With two assists, Rasmus Ristolainen extended his point streak to three games (3+2). Ristolainen has four goals and five assists through 16 games this season and has four multi-point games. He had 20 points (8+12) in 78 games last season.
Then with 1:07 left on the clock in the second period, Franson’s shot from the top of the right faceoff circle beat Luongo to give Buffalo a 2-1 edge.
The goal was a result of a lot of offensive zone time by the Sabres. The line of Moulson, Ryan O'Reilly and Gionta with the defensive pairing of Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe set the table with a great shift that started as the result of a Panthers icing.
As that group of Sabres cycled the puck and eventually changed, Franson jumped onto the ice with his partner Carlo Colaiacovo and the line of Marcus Foligno, David Legwand and Tim Schaller. Foligno set up the screen that helped obscure Luongo’s view.
Franson now has goals in back-to-back games for the first time Feb. 12 and 15, 2011.
“We had a great in-zone, cycling, getting some great chances and then we were able to change one by one and get some fresh guys out there and it paid off,” Gionta said.
Bylsma saw that goal as a turning point in the game and not just because it put the Sabres ahead, but because the Panthers had been applying some strong pressure up until that moment.
“The goal at the end of the second was a big one for us,” Bylsma said. “They had carried the play and then we had the two-minute shift in our favor. We get the goal. I thought it was a huge point for us in the game and really sets us up to close it out, win the game. Our guys fought and battled to get it.”
The Sabres added a power-play goal to their lead when Reinhart tipped in an Ennis shot 3:38 into the third period. Reinhart kept his body square to the shooter to gain position during the entire sequence had his stick in perfect position to deflect the puck in.
Reinhart has proven to be effective so far this season as a net-front presence.
“That was a big goal by Reino. He’s making a name for himself right in front of the net,” Ennis said. “He’s been doing a great job in there and he’s a great player. It was a great goal.”
With the assist, Ennis extended his point streak to four games (0+4). His last four-game point streak ran from Dec. 9 to 15, 2014.
Vincent Trocheck then scored with exactly four minutes remaining to put the Panthers within striking distance, but the Sabres were able to close the door.
MAYDAY’S MOMENT OF THE GAME
“In a game loaded with adversity, the Sabres proved resilient by scoring timely goals. In their one and only power play opportunity, Tyler Ennis - who had a goal taken away from him - made a great play to find the stick of Sam Reinhart, who's net front presence has been a welcome constant throughout this season to date.”
- Brad May, Sabres TV Analyst
The coaches got a workout in the second period with a pair of challenges.
Ennis had a goal called back 6:33 into the middle frame after Panthers coach Gerard Gallant challenged that the Sabres entered the offensive zone offside. Upon review, Gallant was deemed correct and the ensuing goal was disallowed.
“It’s in play so there’s no excuse. I’ve got to stay onside,” Ennis said.
Three minutes later, Bylsma had the opportunity to use his first challenge of the season. The Panthers had tied the game when Jonathan Huberdeau put the puck home into a gaping net on the power play as Ullmark was down and out on the play.
Bylsma challenged that Huberdeau bumped into Ullmark as he cut across to make the play, but the ruling on the ice stood as called, making it a 1-1 game.
“The goalie interference situation, it’s one where they look to make the better call. Offsides, it’s black and white. With goalie interference, it’s not as clear cut,” Bylsma said. “There was some contact there and he did impede our goalie. Was it because we pushed him in or not – that was the question mark.
“We knew there was some contact with the goalie and thought it may be a good time to give the referee a better chance to make a call. And it didn’t work in our favor.”
A challenge had only been used in one other Sabres game this year. Ottawa successfully had a Sabres’ goal called back on a delayed offside in the season opener.
The Sabres return to practice at First Niagara Center on Friday in preparation for their home game against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. The Tops Gamenight pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m. with faceoff scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.