Cal O'Reilly admitted that even he was a bit surprised when Dan Bylsma called on him to take the third attempt for the Buffalo Sabres in the shootout against Pittsburgh on Saturday night. He had been playing in Rochester 24 hours earlier, and now found himself skating to center ice with a desperately needed win - against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, no less - resting on his shoulders.
Luckily for the Sabres, Bylsma had done his homework. O'Reilly had only played in 133 NHL games entering the night, yet he came in with a 5-for-12 mark in shootouts. Of those five goals, the one that came on Valentine's Day in 2010, when O'Reilly was a member of the Nashville Predators, was the one that earned him the nod. That one came against Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins goalie who had been brilliant in stopping the Sabres all night.
O'Reilly was surprised, but he wasn't nervous. He skated in from the right toward Fleury and executed his plan, which was to get Fleury to lower his glove and beat him with a high shot. From there it was up to Anders Nilsson, who stopped Kris Letang to complete his own perfect shootout and officially snap the Sabres' six-game winless streak with a 2-1 victory.
Video: PIT@BUF: O'Reilly goes top-shelf in shootout
"Cal has experience against Marc-Andre in a shootout and Cal's good in a shootout," Bylsma said afterward. "That's one of his go-to moves … I don't know how he scored against Marc-Andre in 2010, but I've seen him use that one in our shootouts. Again, you want to put people in the right spot to have success and regardless of whether Cal was a call-up or not, I think that was the right time for Cal."
Of O'Reilly's six shootout goals, three have now been game deciders.
"It's probably good I didn't have to think about it," O'Reilly admitted.
In order for O'Reilly to even have had the chance to win the shootout, the Sabres needed the type of performance they got from Nilsson. He made a season-high 46 saves through regulation and overtime, with the lone goal he did allow came from Sidney Crosby on a power play in the second period. Then, he stared down Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Letang in the shootout and stopped them all.
Nilsson preached patience in reading the play when he was asked about stopping Crosby on Saturday morning, and he did so once again after the game was over.
"They do have some very skilled guys and some very good players in the lineup," he said. "I just wait, try to play [the same] as every shootout. I try to be as patient as possible, try to let them make the first move and then try to make the save. Today I got lucky and was able to do that."
Video: PIT@BUF: Nilsson denies Letang to seal shootout win
With the win, Nilsson improved to 2-1-2 with a 1.74 goals-against average and a .951 save percentage in five starts for the Sabres this season. From the moment he stepped into camp, the goalie the Sabres acquired from St. Louis in exchange for a fifth-round pick this summer has been everything they could have asked for and more, and yet he pushed the credit to his teammates following his victory.
"I feel pretty confident out there overall," Nilsson said. "But it's a team game and when you have good rebound control, it's usually because your guys in front are doing a good job and keeping a good outside lane and giving me a clear view of the shots."
Even having been with the team for less than a day, O'Reilly said he could sense how desperate the Sabres were for a win. They'd struggled to score while his younger brother Ryan has been shelved with an oblique injury and were struggling to limit their opponents' scoring chances in recent losses.
Bylsma and his players admitted they knew they'd need a tight, low-scoring game in order to win, and that's what they got. The game swung like a pendulum, beginning when William Carrier scored to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead in the first period.
After that, there were times when the Penguins dominated possession in the offensive zone, such as the extended shift in the defensive zone that led to Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Gorges being caught on the ice for four-straight minutes. There were also times when the Sabres controlled the play, like their six-shot effort in overtime.
"It doesn't really matter at this point in time who it's against but a win we desperately needed against one of the better teams if not the best team in the League," Bylsma said. "We knew it was gonna battle, we knew we wanted it to be a tight game, we wanted it to be a 1-0 game and that's exactly what we got. Our guys battled out a tough point and then we finally figured out a shootout."
"We tried to make sure we bend, but not break," O'Reilly said. "[Nilsson] made some unbelievable saves to keep us in it and it worked out tonight."
Not only was the win their first in seven games, it was their first against the Penguins since April 23, 2013. They'll have a chance to build on it too, with two more games remaining on their current homestand.
"We did need two points today, we wanted to end this losing streak," Nilsson said. "It's fortunate that we were able to do that tonight."
Carrier nets his first
When an attempted pass rimmed around the boards past Matt Cullen, Taylor Fedun immediately one-timed a shot from the blue line. Carrier, cutting through the slot, was able to redirect the puck past Fleury to give Buffalo a 1-0 lead 8:16 into the contest.
Video: PIT@BUF: Carrier scores first NHL goal on deflection
"It's pretty nice," Carrier said. "I mean I've had a few chances in the games before, I had four or five shots so it was just nice to get that first in."
The Sabres continue their four-game homestand on Monday night when they welcome the Calgary Flames into KeyBank Center. The Flames earned an overtime win in the first matchup between the two teams in Calgary on Oct. 18.
Coverage on Monday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the TOPS Pregame Show on MSG, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Flames at 7 p.m