Sometimes momentum in a hockey game can change without warning. The Buffalo Sabres were down 3-0 to the New York Islanders heading into the third period Saturday night.
Buffalo hadn’t overcome a three-goal deficit in the third since April 3, 2012.
They had only overcome a 3-0 third-period deficit twice before in franchise history, the last time on April 2, 2003.
They hadn’t won a game this season when trailing after two periods. They were 0-15-0 in that situation heading into the game.
But once the pucks started going in, none of that mattered. Buffalo scored three times in the third to rally back, beating the Islanders 4-3 in the shootout at First Niagara Center.
“In this game, that’s the fun thing,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “We said going into the third period, ‘You just never know.’”
Nicolas Deslauriers, Zemgus Girgensons and Chris Stewart scored the Sabres’ goals in regulation. John Tavares scored twice for the Islanders and Nick Leddy added the other. Tyler Ennis put home the only goal in the shootout.
Jhonas Enroth shut the door for Buffalo, stopping Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and then Tavares to improve to 5-0 this season in the shootout. He’s stopped 20 of 21 shooters this year.
He made 30 saves in regulation and came up huge on three more Islanders shots in overtime for a total of 33 stops.
“That was a heck of a comeback,” Sabres forward Drew Stafford, who recorded two assists, said. “It just goes to show you the type of character we have in this room – a no-quit attitude. Especially down 3-0, they way they were controlling the play – especially in the second period – we might’ve folded up shop, but it’s not so anymore.”
The comeback began when Deslauriers spoiled Kevin Poulin’s shutout bid 6:39 into the third period.
Deslauriers placed the blame for Tuesday’s loss in Detroit squarely on his shoulders. He took a roughing penalty in the second period that he thought turned the tide in the Red Wings’ favor. In that game, the Red Wings scored four goals in the third period to win.
He atoned for that mistake with a goal and an assist against the Islanders. Deslauriers is now riding a three-game point streak. He has two goals and two assists over that span.
“I’m just putting the puck on net and getting lucky, odd bounces,” he said. “But I’m not a guy who looks at his stats like that. I’m more of just finishing my hits and if I have a chance to bury one, I’ll do my best.”
His teammates were happy to see him rebound in that fashion.
“He’s done a little bit of everything and you like to see guys like that succeed because they work so hard and put so much effort in and they care so much,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “It’s nice for him to start putting them away for us.”
HOLLA AT THAT SHORTY
The Sabres fans in the crowd found themselves back in the game when Girgensons tallied shorthanded with 9:59 remaining to make it 3-2. Deslauriers sprung him with a swift outlet pass and Girgensons made no mistake for his 10th goal and second shorthanded marker of the year.
The penalty killing units stymied the Islanders power play in both of their opportunities with the man advantage. They had yet to allow a shorthanded goal this season.
It’s a big step from that game in Detroit as well. Three of Detroit’s four third-period goals came on the power play and they had scored with the extra attacker earlier in the game as well.
BACK TO BASICS
Weber has been with the team since 2007 and said this is probably the tightest group he’s been with during his tenure as a Sabre.
“We never thought we were out of it,” he said. “That’s the sign of a close team and a team that’s headed in the right direction.”
Buffalo was on a 0-3-1 skid heading into the game but only one of those losses was on home ice. Prior to that, they had won 10 of 13 games. Weber, who had missed the past six games after undergoing minor knee surgery, thought that the team came back to life in the third.
“That’s the type of hockey we were playing before we went on our little slump here with the injuries and stuff like that. We’re really starting to turn a page,” Weber said. “…We’re having a lot of fun. We’re working hard.”
TYING IT UP
To extend his point streak to four games, Stewart took a pass from Stafford down the right wing cut in tight and slipped a backhand in underneath Poulin’s pads. The goal tied the game with 8:10 remaining in regulation and just 1:49 after Girgensons’ goal.
Stewart now has two goals and two assists during his streak.
Buffalo is now 10-2-0 in their past 12 games at home.
“That was a hack of a move by him and to come back like that, it’s great to hear that sound in this building,” Stafford said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard it that loud.
“It just goes to show you the fans here, they still want a winning product on the ice and we’re doing our best to, like I said – no quit in here. To put on a show for them like that and get them involved, we only feed off that even more.”
BITTEN AGAIN BY THE FLU BUG
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen left the game with the flu early in the second.
Nolan said it’s likely that they’ll have to call up a defenseman for the team’s game against Ottawa on Monday. Several of Buffalo’s players have been under the weather in the past week.
Matt Moulson missed three games with an illness before returning Saturday night. Patrick Kaleta and Michal Neuvirth have also missed time because of the flu but have been well enough to play the past two games.
The Sabres and Senators are scheduled to face off at 7:30 p.m. on Monday from Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, Ontario.