There were three key moments late in a 3-2 overtime win for the Buffalo Sabres over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night, and Ryan O'Reilly had a hand in all of them.
There was the game-tying goal, which O'Reilly scored with 4:09 remaining on a wrap-around backhand shot. There was a 4-on-3 penalty kill in overtime, which O'Reilly quarterbacked and, finally, there was the overtime winner scored by Kyle Okposo, on which O'Reilly earned the primary assist.
We'll start with the tying goal, because it was the moment that made the other two possible and it came at a time when things looked bleak for the Sabres. Darren Helm had scored for the Red Wings to break a 1-1 tie less than two minutes prior when O'Reilly found himself battling Danny Dekeyser as the two skated into the Detroit zone along the right-wing boards.
What happened next, according to Dan Bylsma, was an act of will.
Video: DET@BUF: O'Reilly beats Mrazek with nifty backhand
"He willed it," the Sabres coach said. "It was a big-time play from our guy wanting to be a leader on this team and just willed that goal in. From along the boards to behind the net to bringing it out, that's the best I can say. He willed that goal into the back of the net."
There have been times when you can see O'Reilly will ideas into reality on the ice, but it's often with his stick work. This time it took physicality, with O'Reilly extending one arm to toss Dekeyser to the ice as they skated into the corner. Now alone with the puck, O'Reilly wrapped around behind the net and roofed the game-tying goal with his backhand shot to the far-side corner.
His reward for scoring the goal was, well, a lot more ice time. O'Reilly was on the ice at both the beginning and the end of the overtime period, and he played all but 56 seconds in-between. This was made necessary when Okposo was called for hooking, forcing the Sabres into their 4-on-3 penalty kill.
Buffalo's struggles on the penalty kill have been well documented this season, and the Sabres did give up a power-play goal to Detroit's Frans Nielsen in the first period. But they came through twice late, once in the third period and then again with the game on the line in overtime when they allowed just two shots on goal.
Those shots accounted for two of Anders Nilsson's 32 saves on the night.
"We knew we would have to be better to win those last few kills," O'Reilly said. "It started with Anders, he makes it easy for us. Both goalies all year have been making it easy for us there, we've just got to make sure that our sticks are good and we're working hard."
Having a good stick is one thing, but O'Reilly played a large portion of the overtime period without his stick.
"I mean you don't really practice that and you don't really practice playing 3-on-2 in the zone," Okposo said. "He did a great job playing without his stick and the guys did a great job on the kill, they bailed me out."
Okposo said he was sitting in the box doing whatever he could to take his mind off of the predicament his team was in. He got a chance to be the hero once he emerged, as the Sabres received a power play of their own. O'Reilly fed Okposo down low, and he scored on his own rebound to win the game with 26 seconds remaining.
Video: DET@BUF: Okposo backhands PPG to win game in overtime
"Just a bit of a broken play," Okposo said. "We had a couple of things we wanted to do and they just seemed to be giving me time at the net. Ryan made a great pass down to me and surprised me a little bit but I was just able to turn and stuff it in."
The win marks the second in three games for the Sabres and their fourth in a row at KeyBank Center.
McCabe leaves with shoulder injury
Jake McCabe sustained a shoulder injury when he was tripped and hit into the boards by Gustav Nyquist, forcing him to leave early in the first period. McCabe did return to play one shift later in the period, but he went back to the room after that and did not return.
Bylsma said the injury is one that McCabe has had before, but had no further update other than to say the defenseman would undergo further evaluation on Saturday.
The Sabres are already depleted on the left side defensively, with Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) and Josh Gorges (hip) both already sidelined with injuries. Zach Bogosian, a right-handed shot, has been playing on his off side in their absence.
With McCabe out on Friday, meanwhile, the Sabres were left to rotate five defensemen for essentially the entire game. That resulted in ice times of 29:51 for Bogosian and a career-high 35:24 for Rasmus Ristolainen, including the entirety of the overtime period.
Bylsma said he asked Ristolainen if he was OK to stay out on the ice during a timeout late in overtime.
"He had a big smile on his face and said 'I'm good to go,'" Bylsma said. "He had no issue playing all those minutes."
Eichel and Reinhart connect
Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart connected for a power-play goal that tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, with Eichel taking a one-time shot from the left faceoff circle and Reinhart forcing the puck in at the net front.
Video: DET@BUF: Reinhart kicks puck to stick, nets PPG
That goal doesn't tell the whole story, however, as the two young forwards were productive throughout the night at even strength as well on their line with Marcus Foligno. Both Eichel and Reinhart put six shots on goal, while Reinhart's vision was on display with a number of excellent passes to set up scoring chances.
"I think the last three games we felt really comfortable together," Reinhart said. "I think Moose really complements us well, he fits right in and plays that role so well so we read off each other. I think we can keep improving on that but I liked our effort tonight and I liked our puck movement."
The Sabres will conclude their back-to-back set when they play the first of four straight road games on Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.