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Ristolainen's OT goal seals comeback win over Oilers

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

For a split second, it looked like the Buffalo Sabres had been snake bitten by one more dreaded post. With their goalie pulled in the final minute of their game against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night, Ryan O'Reilly took a shot that looked like it just might tie the game. Instead, the shot clanked off the post, producing a sound that has become all too familiar for the Sabres this season.

Then again, maybe their fortunes have finally changed because, again, that was only for a split second. Evander Kane was waiting in the crease to knock in the rebound to score his second goal of the night to tie the game with 28.3 seconds remaining in regulation and Rasmus Ristolainen clinched a 4-3 win for the Sabres with a one-time shot 57 seconds into overtime.

Oh, and in one last bit of poetic justice: Ristolainen's shot went in off the post.

"With all the luck Risto's had with his stick and his opportunities, it was sure good to see him rip one off the bar," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It may be the loudest one I've heard off the post and in."

Video: EDM@BUF: Ristolainen roofs blistering shot for OT win

The goal was Ristolainen's first in a season that has been partially defined by his bad luck with broken sticks, which Bylsma said kept the young defenseman from executing on shots he typically would take in the early going. Still, Ristolainen entered Tuesday tied for third on the team with 60 shots, and he added three to that total against the Oilers.

Ristolainen said he put everything he had into his shot in overtime (actually, he said he shoots every puck like he's trying to put it through the boards), which came off a feed from O'Reilly on a 4-on-3 power play. Finally, it went in.

"It was about time," Ristolainen said. "A lot of chances, shots, and it finally went in."

Despite his goal-scoring drought, Ristolainen has been the same rock on defense that he was for the Sabres last season and even more so in recent games as injuries pile up on the back end. He skated a game-high 29:58 of ice time against Edmonton after skating for 29:51 in Washington on Monday.

Ristolainen doesn't mind the heavy work load, of course - he said afterward that he feels good enough to play again on Wednesday - but his contributions haven't gone unnoticed.

"He's carrying the load for us back there and with continued injuries, you know how much he's playing is truly significant," Bylsma said. "He's had some long shifts, he's had some tough shifts, he's had some tough battles. He got a lot lighter when he scored that goal."

Video: EDM@BUF: Kane ties the game with 28 seconds left

In that game in Washington, the Sabres carried a 2-1 lead into overtime only to see it slip away in an eventual overtime loss. For some time on Tuesday, it appeared as if they might suffer the same fate to Edmonton. The Sabres took a 2-0 lead in the first period on the strength of goals from Kane and Brian Gionta, then took three penalties in the second period and allowed Edmonton to tie the game.

The Oilers finally pulled ahead with Kane in the penalty box for cross-checking midway through the third period. Connor McDavid took a shot on the power play that Leon Draisaitl was able to tip past Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson from the slot. 

Kane answered for his penalty with the game-tying goal, and Ristolainen did the rest.

"We found a way to win," Gionta said. "We got away from our game a bit in the second, got into penalty trouble and that throws the rhythm off of rolling the lines over and being able to get some momentum. A late penalty, obviously they capitalize on it, it puts us in a hole. But we stuck with it and found a way to win. It showed a lot of character."

"If you want to be a good team you never lose two in a row," Ristolainen added. "Last night it was close. Tonight we needed the win, and it was a big win for us."


A big night for Foligno

Ristolainen's goal was made possible because the Sabres had the good fortune of beginning the extra period with 1:42 of 4-on-3 power play time. The Sabres were up the extra man because of a play by Marcus Foligno to win a race for a puck down low against Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson and draw a holding call with 18 seconds remaining in regulation.

"That's a big play," Gionta said. "We just got the [tying goal] and there's just under 30 seconds left in the game and it's easy to just kind of sit back. Him forcing it, him going hard, draws a big penalty and it carries over into overtime and it's the reason we win. Little plays like that is what we need from this team and they go unnoticed on the score sheet but not to the guys in the room." 

Foligno also was the driving force on Gionta's goal in the first period when he carried the puck deep into the zone and drew a defender away from the net before tossing a pass to Gionta out in front.

Video: EDM@BUF: Foligno feeds Gionta for tip-in goal

"It was a good transition," Gionta said. "We built some speed in the neutral zone and obviously Marcus, big body, was able to drive the guy wide with his speed. He threw it in front, I was just able to redirect it."


Watch this save by Anders Nilsson

With the game still tied and the Sabres on the power play in the third period, McDavid got free for a shorthanded breakaway. McDavid had already put his speed and skill on display at several points throughout the night - he finished with two assists - so, needless to say, the fans in KeyBank Center were on the edge of their seats.

Luckily, Nilsson was the calmest guy in the building.

Video: EDM@BUF: Nilsson denies McDavid on the breakaway

Nilsson finished his night with 34 saves on 37 shots.


Up next

The Sabres will look to build on their win when they conclude their season series with the Washington Capitals at KeyBank Center on Friday night. It will mark the third meeting between the two teams since Nov. 25, with the Capitals having won each of the first two matchups at Verizon Center in Washington.

Tickets are still available to come watch the Sabres host Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, or you can tune into our coverage on MSG-B beginning with the TOPS Pregame Show at 6:30 p.m. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with the puck set to drop at 7 p.m. 

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