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Eichel on 1st-place Sabres: 'We have a lot to accomplish still'

Thompson, Ullmark lead team to 9th straight win

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

DETROIT - Jack Eichel chuckled a bit at the notion.  

The Buffalo Sabres sit alone atop the NHL standings following a 3-2 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, their ninth in a row. Asked what it meant, their captain - forward-thinking in his reactions throughout this winning streak - laughed a bit, then took a moment to reflect. 

 "Obviously it's early, right? We want to keep this thing going and we want to win as many games as we can. It's only November," Eichel said.

"But just from where we've come from and the struggles the last few years and last year, I just think everyone's really stepped up this year. We've committed to putting our best foot forward every day, trying to get better. It's a great feeling. Obviously, we have a lot to accomplish still."

Video: Sabres extend winning streak to nine with 3-2 SO win

Eichel pointed out how it's seemed like new heroes have emerged with each passing game. On this night it was 21-year-old Tage Thompson scoring his third goal of the season and later keeping the Sabres alive in a shootout, buying time for Sam Reinhart to net the winner in the seventh round. 

Thompson was a healthy scratch for four games to start November. The Sabres kept him in the NHL, allowing him to hone his skills in practice while getting a fresh perspective from the press box. He now has three goals in four games, the latest of which put his deadly shot on display. 

"It was a perfect pass," Thompson said. "I got high-sticked probably 10, 15 seconds before that so I was pretty mad and just kind of put all my weight into it. I was pretty happy it went in."

Video: BUF@DET: Thompson blasts one-timer for PPG

Then there was Linus Ullmark, who stepped in for his first start since Nov. 17 and made 33 saves. His night included breakaway stops on Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin, the latter of whom had previously beat him for one of Detroit's two goals in regulation. 

Ullmark then stopped six of seven shots in the shootout. 

"You've got Tommer going out for a shootout and he puts an incredible move on and keeps the game going," Eichel said. "You've got Linus stepping in and playing out of his mind, making some huge saves, bailing me out and bailing us out a few times. You can't say enough about him. 

"We find a way to get two points again."

Video: BUF@DET: Ullmark flashes the leather in overtime

Finding a way has been a theme for the Sabres on this streak. They've protected leads after scoring first. They've erased third-period deficits. They've won three games in overtime and three more in shootouts.

They were tied 1-1 entering the third period on Saturday. Jeff Skinner (more on him later) opened the scoring with a power-play goal 3:37 into the first and Larkin tied it less than a minute into the second.

Thompson's power-play goal put Buffalo ahead, but Mantha answered for Detroit with 6:08 remaining. Still - despite playing their sixth game in nine nights, four of which have come on the road - the Sabres found a way to gut out the extra point. 


"The mindset we have going into the third period is we're just going to wear them down," Eichel said. "If it doesn't work in the first five or if it takes the full 20 or a shootout then so be it. It's a credit to everyone in the room for committing to the game plan and sticking with it as much as we can."

Ullmark said that the close nature of the Sabres' recent games has kept them grounded.

"For us it's been a battle all the way to the end," he said. "That's what keeps us down to Earth, because we know it's a very tight league and you can't just go and glide on some pink clouds up there in the sky and think that you're going to win every night just because you've done it before. 

"You go out there with the mindset to win. We've been able to do it now."

The Sabres are now one game shy of the 10-game streak that began the 2006-07 season, which tied a franchise record. It's fitting that they lead the NHL in points for the first time since that Presidents' Trophy-winning campaign.

As Eichel said, it's early. But for fans and players alike who have endured tough years, it's an accomplishment worth celebrating. 

"Guys have been able to use that motivation to come back stronger every year," Ullmark said. "Now, we're finally getting rewarded."


Skinner stays hot

As Skinner climbed over the boards for the Sabres' first power play of the night, a little more than 24 hours had passed since his overtime winner against Montreal. 

In other words, he was due.

Skinner opened the scoring with his 18th goal of the season, momentarily capturing sole possession of the NHL lead. Winnipeg's Patrik Laine later passed him with a five-goal outing against the St. Louis Blues.

Video: BUF@DET: Skinner cleans up rebound for PPG

Eichel assisted on the play to extend his points streak to six games. He's tied for third in the league with 23 assists this season. 


Up next

The Sabres return home on Tuesday for Hockey Fights Cancer Night against the San Jose Sharks. Tickets are available through Monday with no extra convenience fees as part of an extended Black Friday offer. 

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: 9 straight wins is great, but now we're looking ahead to #HockeyFightsCancer Night. 💜It's a night that means a lot to us, and to so many in our community.Hope to see you there Tuesday:

 Can't make it downtown? Coverage on MSG-B 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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