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'This team keeps growing': Sabres cap road trip with resilient victory

Team concludes California road trip with 4 of 6 points

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

SAN JOSE - A team can learn a lot about itself on its first long road trip of a season. 

The Sabres had won three straight games at KeyBank Center when they departed for California on Monday. They lost despite a strong start in Anaheim on Wednesday and needed a brilliant 47-save effort from Carter Hutton to gut out a win in Los Angeles on Thursday. 

All the while, Ralph Krueger watched his team and was pleased with the growth he saw. 

"We speak about being connected on the ice, but you could really feel this group was connected off the ice," Krueger said. "After the Anaheim loss, how we dealt with that, and the vibe in the room today even though we weren't happy with the game and the way we played in L.A. 

"… Just coming together here the last couple of days, lots of time together but nothing but a small picture in our heads and a hunger to continue to learn. That's what we're going to continue to do when we go home now."

Video: Girgensons, Sabres hold on to defeat Sharks

The Sabres put together one more resilient effort in the finale, a 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Saturday. The Sharks erased three deficits, including two at the beginning of the third period, but Krueger felt his team responded with its best road period to date.

Zemgus Girgensons scored the winning goal with 7:45 remaining in regulation. Marcus Johansson (1+1) and Henri Jokiharju (0+2) each tallied two points, while Casey Mittelstadt and Jeff Skinner added goals. Linus Ullmark made 29 saves. 

Goals from Mittelstadt and Johansson gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead entering the third period, which opened with three goals scored in the span of 2:50. Here's a breakdown by time elapsed:

 0:44 - With the Sharks on a power play that carried over from the end of the second period, Tomas Hertl deflects a shot by Erik Karlsson in off the body of Rasmus Ristolainen. 2-2. 

2:28 - A loose puck bounces through the crease behind Sharks goalie Martin Jones until Skinner finally taps it in for his fifth goal of the season. 3-2, Sabres. 

2:50 - Twenty-two seconds after Skinner gave the Sabres a lead, Marcus Sorensen darts across the Buffalo net and deflects a shot by Brent Burns. 3-3. 

The Sorensen goal could have been a back breaker. Instead, Krueger saw his team rally on the bench.

"I'm really, really happy with the reaction of the group on the bench and the energy that was there," he said. "Nothing but a thought of trying to win the game. Nobody sat back and thought, Let's take this to overtime. 

"It was, Let's get back on our toes, let's get the lead again. There was a lot of emotion. It was a great game for everybody to watch, both sides. I think it was a fantastic hockey game and we look forward to more of those with the Sabres this year."

Johansson, like Krueger, is new to the Sabres this season. Girgensons is one of the team's longest-tenured players. Both had similar comments regarding the response to adversity they saw on the bench in the third period.

"A lot of character in this room," Johansson said. "We don't quit. We didn't panic. Nothing changed. We just kept playing. It was good goals by them but a couple unfortunate bounces and it's going to happen. We stuck with it and kinda got one back there on Skinn's goal. A win is all that matters. … I think this team keeps growing and it's fun to be a part of.

"Everyone stays positive," Girgensons added. "There's not a moment where we think we're going to lose the game. It's been like that throughout all these games this season so far. It's a great thing to see. You have it every season until a certain point. Right now, the guys are really buying in, and the positivity on the bench just makes everyone feed off each other."

The Sabres out-chanced the Sharks, 7-3, at 5-on-5 in the third period, according to On a night when three different lines contributed goals, it was the lunch pail trio of Kyle Okposo, Johan Larsson, and Girgensons who delivered the win. 

Okposo began the play as the first man in on the forecheck, forcing a turnover behind the net. Larsson took a shot and created a rebound that Girgensons buried for his first goal of the season.

Video: BUF@SJS: Girgensons nets go-ahead goal for Sabres

"It's really mentally tough on a road trip like this, three games in four nights against such strong opposition, to be able to then stick with the plan and really do what we need to do on both sides of the puck," Krueger said. "That happened right through the game, 60 minutes today. 

"I thought we deserved to win. Overall in the last period, we gave up almost nothing 5-on-5. Their power play is world class and we gave a little too much there, but 5-on-5 that last period was our best on the road so far this year."

The Sabres return home for a rematch with the Sharks sporting a 7-1-1 record. Skinner remained even keeled when asked what that meant, saying their goal on Monday would be the same regardless of their record after nine games. Keep improving, every day. 

"It's just about constant improvement here," Krueger said. "Anything else will just distract us from what's happening, and we have so many areas where we can still get better at. We find something every day and the players are all in. 

"It's a lot of fun, but it's fun with hard work and with sacrifice for each other. The spirit's amazing. Nobody cares who's scoring anymore. Everybody's just cheering for each other. It's a real good vibe out there, but we have to continue to build on that."

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