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'That's Sabres Hockey': Hard-working trio gets rewarded in SO win

Girgensons, Larsson, and Okposo helped create two goals in Buffalo's 3-2 win over Florida

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Linus Ullmark watched from the opposite end of the ice as the trio of Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, and Kyle Okposo went to work for long stretches in the offensive zone throughout the Sabres' meeting with the Florida Panthers at KeyBank Center on Friday. 

What was the goalie thinking during those moments of rest?

"That's Sabres hockey right there," Ullmark said. "I love it."

Video: Ullmark, Sabres top Panthers in SO

The line of Girgensons, Larsson, and Okposo helped create a pair of goals in Buffalo's 3-2 shootout victory over Florida, which improved the team to 4-0-1 to start the season.

It wasn't always smooth. As was the case in their overtime win against Montreal on Wednesday, the Sabres took a two-goal lead in the third period only to see a division rival come back to force overtime. Mike Hoffman scored the tying goal with the Panthers' net empty and 10.4 seconds left on the clock. 

Still, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger saw positives in the way his team handled the game down the stretch and heading into overtime.

"There was a period after the 2-0 where they made a really hard push, but I actually liked our last six, seven minutes," Krueger said. "I thought we were able to learn from that and settle down, manage the puck better, stayed stronger inside.

"But overall, [I'm] really pleased with the calmness on the bench as we headed into overtime, the belief that we could still win, the lack of disappointment in that late goal is really what sticks with me at this moment."

Video: FLA@BUF: Mittelstadt wins game for Sabres in shootout

Ullmark turned away shots from Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov in the shootout to put the finishing touches on a 41-save performance. Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt beat Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky on their two attempts to seal the win. 

 

The Roaring Twenties

Krueger spoke about the line of Girgensons, Larsson, and Okposo at length after practice on Thursday, referring to the trio as an example for the team's other lines to follow in terms of how he wants the Sabres to play. He expressed confidence that offense would follow if they kept playing the same way.

The Sabres entered the game out-chancing teams 23-7 with the trio on the ice at 5-on-5, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. That trend continued from their first shift of Friday night, as the three went right to work with their simple, forechecking game and quickly put pressure on Bobrovsky. 

Their reward finally came with 30.7 seconds left to play in the second period, when Okposo barreled into the offensive zone, split the defense pair of Mike Matheson and Anton Stralman and passed across to Larsson, who roofed the puck for his first goal of the season. 

Video: FLA@BUF: Larsson lifts wrist shot past Bobrovsky

They carried that momentum into the third, setting up Marco Scandella for a goal that doubled the Sabres' lead at 2:02 of the period. Girgensons tossed the puck in behind the defense, won a race to the half wall and quickly found Okposo, who set up Scandella with a wide-open net.

Video: FLA@BUF: Scandella finishes off the feed from Okposo

"I've never seen a bench cheer so much for another line having success," Krueger said. "The entire bench just erupted on both of the goals. To see all that hard work, the grinding they've been doing the first five games is paying off so big tonight. 

"They were certainly the ones that were cheered now in the locker room after the game. We're just pleased they got some offensive return for all that effort."

Okposo broke down what's made the line successful through five games.

"All three of us just kind of go hunt pucks, get on the forecheck and go hard and give other guys support. I think when you have three guys really committed to pressure, something just happens. It works. 

"I played with those guys a little bit last year and we seem to have some chemistry so we're going to continue to keep it going."

 

Ullmark stays calm

Ullmark has now stopped 40-plus shots in each of his two appearances this season, the first of which came in an overtime loss to Columbus on Monday. He was asked how he remained poised through the heavy workload and managed to come through in the shootout. 

"I breathe, and I enjoy the moment," he said. 

The Sabres enjoyed having Ullmark, who managed to outduel a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Bobrovsky on a night when he made life difficult for the team's offense. Though the Panthers held the edge in shots, 43-32, the Sabres had the scoring chance tally in their favor. 

Video: FLA@BUF: Ullmark uses glove to deny Hoffman

"I thought both goalies were outstanding," Krueger said. "World-class goaltending on both ends, lots of slot chances, lots of scoring chances. What we were able to eliminate really was the second chances. There weren't a lot of rebounds that he had to deal with."

"We're pleased with that, but Linus and [fellow goalie Carter Hutton] both in these five games have done what we've asked for. We're excited by the duo we have back there right now."

 

Trust the process

The Sabres have matched their best start since 2009-10 with nine points in their first five games under Krueger. The stretch has seen plenty of positives, along with stretches the team intends to learn from moving forward. 

Ullmark summed up what he's learned about his team so far.

"First of all, we know that when we stick to our game plan, we win," he said. "We play a very good hockey game. Are we going to win every game? Probably not, but we have a very good opportunity to do it as long as we stick to the process and stick with our game plan."

 

Up next

 The Sabres conclude their homestand against Dallas on Monday afternoon. Coverage on MSG begins at 2:30 p.m., or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 3. 

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