Drama loomed in the KeyBank Center air when Vincent Trocheck came to center ice late in the third period between the Sabres and the Florida Panthers on Saturday. Sure, the Sabres were sitting rather comfortably with a 3-0 lead and only 57 seconds left to play. What was at stake, however, was a well-earned shutout for Anders Nilsson, who hadn't quite gotten the results he deserved in his recent starts.
Trocheck was patient as he skated in toward the goal, but so was Nilsson in staying with him. Trocheck shot wide to the glove side, and Nilsson held on until the final horn for his second career shutout in the 3-0 win for the Sabres, their first of the season on home ice.
Video: FLA@BUF: Nilsson forces puck wide by cutting angle
"We played a very good, solid game tonight," Nilsson said. "A great team game. We controlled the game throughout 60 minutes and played very good defensively and had very good structure and didn't give them a lot of chances. The shots I had were mostly from the outside and the guys in front of me did a very good job of boxing out and giving me a clear view of the pucks."
Nilsson was making his third-straight start in net as Robin Lehner has rested with an illness, but the results hadn't been in his favor in the first two games. The Sabres blew a three-goal lead in the third period of his debut in Philadelphia and were never able to overcome a slow start at home against Minnesota on Thursday.
On Saturday, neither problem was apparent. The Sabres came out of the gate strong - it was their best start of the season in the eyes of forward Kyle Okposo - and took the lead within the first 10 minutes. When they began the third period with a 2-0 lead, they were able to protect it with two key penalty kills and by adding extra cushion with a power-play goal of their own.
All the while, their goaltender was solid. The defense created lanes for him to see the puck, and he did his part by limiting rebound chances. He ended the night with 33 saves.
"I don't like when I have thoughts like this, but in the first period, he just looked so solid, so confident in net, I thought it was going to be hard to get one by him," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "When you see your goaltender make three, four, five saves that are just hitting him right in the chest and he's swallowing them up, you know he's playing big and strong and square in the net."
Johan Larsson opened the scoring for the Sabres, while Okposo and Sam Reinhart both added power-play goals. Rasmus Ristolainen earned his team-leading seventh assist on Okposo's goal in the second period.
Despite the outcome of their 4-0 loss to Minnesota, the Sabres had been happy with the way they played in the second and third periods of that game. They tried to play the same way on Saturday, and this time they were able to bear down on their scoring chances.
"I think we learned from the other night and we just played smart, kind of boring but hard at the same time," Okposo said. "We just kind of were patient, waited for our chances, we let them make some mistakes and we played hard. I think that's a heck of the win for us, especially with the situation being what it was."
The victory snaps a four-game winless streak for the Sabres, and they'll quickly have an opportunity to begin a new streak in the other direction. Buffalo plays at Winnipeg on Sunday at 3 p.m. to conclude the first of their 19 back-to-back sets this season.
Deslauriers exits late
Nicolas Deslauriers left the game after a hit along the boards from Steven Kampfer late in the third period. Bylsma said after the game that Deslauriers was being examined and that he might not be able to make the trip with the team to Winnipeg, which would mean a callup from Rochester would be necessary.
The Amerks are currently on the road in Newfoundland for a game against St. John's at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.
Larsson gets on the board
The trio of Larsson, Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta was already having a good period when they connected to feed Larsson for his first goal of the season 7:47 into the contest. In fact, Larsson had seen a put-back attempt clank off the crossbar not even 30 seconds before he scored.
When they finally did score, it was on the strength of their forechecking down low. Foligno caught the puck in the corner and cycled it to Gionta, who fought off a defender along the back wall and hit Larsson with a perfect pass as he fell down to the ice. Larsson finished the job with a high shot from the right faceoff dot.
Video: FLA@BUF: Larsson goes top shelf on Luongo
"It's been typical of the Larsson line, Gionta and Foligno," Bylsma said. "They do have a rush play there but it's deep and then they forecheck the puck. That was a great play by Gio to Larsson.
More success on the power play
Reinhart was instrumental in the Sabres' 2-for-4 night on the power play, and neither of his contributions were conventional. On Okposo's goal in the second period, Reinhart got his stick on a puck tossed to the net by Rasmus Ristolainen and redirected it over Luongo to the far-side crossbar. Okposo was there to clean up the rebound.
In the third period, with Jaromir Jagr serving a hooking penalty, Reinhart caught a pass from Matt Moulson behind the net and tried to pass to Okposo out in front. Instead, the puck was deflected into the goal off the skate of former Sabre Mark Pysyk, who was defending the pass in the crease.
Video: FLA@BUF: Reinhart buries his first goal of the year
The goal was Reinhart's first of the season.
"I think if it goes by, [Okposo] is wide open," Reinhart said. "The way the year's been going, that's the way the first one had to go in. I think the chances have been there but I just haven't been finishing."
Dmitry Kulikov means business
Kulikov spent seven seasons with the Panthers prior to being acquired by Buffalo in July, but that didn't stop him from doing this to former teammate Derek MacKenzie in the second period.
Video: FLA@BUF: Kulikov lays out MacKenzie with a hip check
MacKenzie probably wasn't a fan of the hit, but the crowd was. It was a worthy recipient of Carubba Collision of the Game in the third period.
The Sabres will complete their back-to-back set on Sunday when they face the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can hear the game live on WGR 550.