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With AHL playoff run likely, rookies making most of time in NHL

Updates from Friday's practice

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Trailing by two goals with five minutes to play, the Sabres never felt like they were out of their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

They eventually fell in overtime, but not before they stormed back with a pair of goals from Casey Mittelstadt and Jack Eichel. Phil Housley credited the abundance of youth on the bench for the team's no-quit attitude. 

"Having the youth, it provided us a spark yesterday," Housley said. "Whether it was in the room or on the bench, really good, positive things were going on. Even though we were down a couple times during the game, we never really felt that we weren't going to come back. We just had that energy."

Video: Reflecting on Olofsson's debut

The Sabres dressed six rookies against the Red Wings: William Borgen, Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, Alexander Nylander, Victor Olofsson and Lawrence Pilut. Olofsson was playing his first NHL game; Borgen was playing his second. 

With the exception of Dahlin and Mittelstadt, all of those players have spent the majority of the season playing together in Rochester, playing key roles on an Amerks team that ranks fourth in the AHL standings and can clinch a second straight playoff berth on Friday night.

Nylander said the atmosphere in Rochester this season has been even better than it was a year ago, when the Amerks ended a three-year playoff drought under first-year coach Chris Taylor. He was recalled to Buffalo on March 10, and has seen Pilut, Borgen and Olofsson join him during over the past week.

"I'm happy for all of them who have come up after me," he said. "It's fun seeing the success we're all having."

Jason Botterill has emphasized the value of young players winning together in the AHL since taking over as Sabres general manager, a philosophy he developed while serving as a veteran on Amerks teams that produced the Sabres' core of the mid-2000s and reinforced during his time in Pittsburgh's front office.

Borgen joined the Amerks late last season after ending his collegiate career at St. Cloud State and said the tight-knit atmosphere was immediately apparent. He's spent this season sharing a house with teammates Alex Oglevie, Sean Malone and C.J. Smith. 

"It's just a winning culture," Borgen said. "You get used to winning and you want to win. That's what we've had this year. We've had a lot of success because of it."

The Sabres have five games remaining, but not all of their rookies are locks to stick around with veterans expected to return from injury over the next week. Even if they do, Borgen, Nylander, Olofsson and Pilut are all expected to join the Amerks for their playoff run. 

They'll be joined by Tage Thompson, who was assigned to Rochester on Thursday, as well as fellow prospects in Smith (54 points in 55 games) and Rasmus Asplund (14 points in his last 10 games).

The short-term objective will to be to go deep into the spring, which could set the table for the next time this group finds itself in Buffalo.

"That would be awesome," Pilut said. "It's a great privilege to play and hopefully get into the playoffs. I think we have all the resources in the world to make it as far as possible."


Friday's practice

A handful of players took the ice for an optional skate at KeyBank Center, a group that included Evan Rodrigues and Jake McCabe. Housley did not rule out the possibility of either player returning to the lineup when the Sabres visit the New York Islanders on Saturday. 

"They're still day-to-day," Housley said. "I wouldn't rule those two out for tomorrow, they will be travelling tomorrow."

Rasmus Ristolainen will not travel with the team due to an illness, nor will Zach Bogosian (lower body) and Matt Hunwick (upper body).

Coverage of the game in New York begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.

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