SAN JOSE – The Buffalo Sabres haven’t played with a lead for much of the season, but they found a way to hang onto one Saturday afternoon against the San Jose Sharks.
Michal Neuvirth won his first career game as a Sabre, making 29 saves in the 2-1 victory at SAP Center at San Jose. He came up big at the end for Buffalo, stopping a late Sharks push.
“It’s a huge win for me and for everybody on this team,” he said. “We worked really hard for this and it paid off tonight.”
The Sharks put on a lot of pressure in the Sabres end in the final few minutes of regulation. San Jose defenseman Brent Burns was stopped by Neuvirth, who covered the puck. Having maintained a lengthy attack in the Sabres zone, the Sharks called for a time out with 1:38 to play and the faceoff to Neuvirth's right.
San Jose had the extra attacker on Joe Pavelski won the draw against Zemgus Girgensons. Pavelski’s eventual shot went wide and out of play, forcing another stoppage.
The Sharks won another draw and after a blocked shot by Josh Gorges, Neuvirth smothered a Tommy Wingels shot.
Then Buffalo called a time out with 43.6 seconds remaining. Thornton beat Cody McCormick on the draw and, once again, Neuvirth stopped another shot, this time a wrister from Thornton.
“We just wanted to change it up a little bit at the end. Just to get their minds off the constant pressure they were throwing at us,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “It worked.”
With only 2.4 seconds to play, the Sabres had to deal with one final defensive draw. The Sharks won it, but Neuvirth gloved down a shot from Burns as time expired.
San Jose has now lost four straight games while the Sabres snapped their own four-game skid to earn their first regulation win of the season.
Buffalo has had trouble scoring goals in recent games and through two periods, it looked like that would hold true again.
After a frustrating offensive performance Thursday night in Los Angeles and having lost to the Anaheim Ducks the night before that, the Sabres came out for the games against the Sharks with a lot of energy. The goals weren’t coming, but the chances were there and they played perhaps their tightest defensive game of the year against the Sharks.
“I thought we were playing better each game and we were facing tough opponents. It’s definitely tough to win in Anaheim or L.A. or even here,” Neuvirth said. “But I think it’s going to make us better in the long run and we’re going to enjoy today, but get back at it on Monday.”
But then floodgates opened briefly early in the third period with three goals came in a matter of 2:27.
Buffalo opened the scoring when Cody Hodgson made a nice move in front of the net off a pass from Drew Stafford behind the goal line 3:43 into the third. The goal was Hodgson’s first of the season.
Nicolas Deslauriers scored 2:27 late off a rebound from a shot by McCormick.
Thirteen seconds after Deslauriers’ goal, however, it was 2-1 when Burns’ wrist shot from the point found its way past Neuvirth.
REINHART’S 1ST POINT
“We’ve gotten some chances. It just hasn’t clicked for us. Tonight, we worked hard. Hard work eventually played off,” Hodgson said. “That was a big play by D-Lo and nice to see Sam get in on it. It feels nice for the team.”
The Sam he’s referring to is rookie Sam Reinhart, the second-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. He picked up the secondary assist on Deslauriers’ goal, his first career point in the NHL.
“Everybody was picking up the puck and screaming for the puck. I didn’t know why because I thought they thought it was my first but it feels good,” Deslauriers said. “I’m happy for the kid. He’s been working hard and there’s more to come for him.”
Reinhart (18 years, 353 days) became the 13th Sabres player to record a point before his 19th birthday according to Elias Sports Bureau. He’ll turn 19 on Nov. 6.
OWNING THE SHARK TANK
The Sabres are currently on a franchise-best seven-game winning streak against the Sharks. The previous record was four straight wins, set the first four times the teams faced off (Oct. 25, 1991 to Oct. 23, 1992).
Buffalo has also now won four consecutive road games in San Jose for the first time in franchise history. Their last road loss to the Sharks came on Jan. 23, 2010.
ONE DAY AT A TIME
Even though Buffalo was able to hang on against San Jose, they know they have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to continue having success.
“We have to take it day-by-day. Today, it’s a good thing that we scored two goals, but we could’ve scored a little bit more,” Deslauriers said.”We just need to improve every game, bear down and put bodies at the net and have more shots on net.
“…From the beginning of the year, we have a solid group and everyone works their ass off. That’s the thing about this group. We know we don’t have all the skills to win 7-0 or something like that but all the boys want to work and we want to change something here for the team and the city.”
A QUICK STOP HOME
Buffalo will head home from the West Coast but will be on the road again soon enough. They’ll practice at First Niagara Center on Monday, but will head out to play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
The Tops Gamenight pregame show starts at 7 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell-TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
They’ll first go home feeling good about the way they wrapped up the West Coast swing.
“It’s more important mentally than anything – to know we can work hard and compete with any team in the League,” Hodgson said. “That’s a good team and the last two games have been against good teams. It’s just nice to pull it out.”