ST. PAUL, MINNESOTA - Through 20 minutes of play at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night, things looked to be shaping up well for the Sabres. They'd wasted little time in breaking Devan Dubnyk's three-game shutout streak with a goal from Ryan O'Reilly and generated several scoring chances in a first period that saw them take an 18-12 advantage in shot attempts.
In the second period, things changed. The Sabres were forced to play with five defensemen after Zach Bogosian left late in the first with a knee injury, and the Wild took advantage with 29 shot attempts in the period. Minnesota tied the game with a power-play goal by Mikael Granlund prior to the second intermission.
"They were taking the game to us as a result of it," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "We were able to gut it out and get to the third period. We felt like coming out in the third we just had to keep gutting it out, keep getting to our game and scratch out a victory. That's what we did."
"Scratching out a win" might be the best way to describe the Sabres 2-1 victory over the Wild. They knew they'd need "ugly goals" to beat Dubnyk - who shut them out with a 38-save performance in Buffalo last Thursday - and that's what they got in Johan Larsson's game-winning goal with 6:26 remaining in the contest.
Brian Gionta carried the puck into the offensive zone after receiving a breakout pass from Marcus Foligno. Gionta skated deep in the zone and simply tossed the puck to the net-front, where it bounced into the net off of Larsson's stick.
Video: BUF@MIN: Larsson redirects Gionta's pass over Dubnyk
"There's nothing really fancy about him coming up big here," Bylsma said. "It was just two strong plays up the wall from Marcus and Brian Gionta. Brian's really just getting the puck to the net."
Not only was it Larsson's second goal of the season, it was his second game-winner and seventh since the beginning of last season, when he tied Jack Eichel for the team lead with five. Only 15 NHL players have more in that span.
"Reminds me of Danny Briere," O'Reilly said, smiling.
The Sabres grinded out the final 1:46 after Dubnyk was pulled, blocking key shots to keep the Wild from getting anywhere close to the game-tying goal, and earned their third win in a row as a result. Buffalo now has 10 points in nine games this season and is above .500 for the first time since Jan. 24, 2013.
Robin Lehner made 27 saves to earn his second-straight victory in net for the Sabres. He praised the defensive effort in front of him afterward, especially given the circumstances with the loss of Bogosian.
"It's fun to play when we play the right way and we work together," Lehner said. "Some good blocked shots here in the end, we were taking away the inside, I get to see most pucks. We just battle hard together."
Three-game win streaks have been few and far between for the Sabres in recent years - they only had two last season - but the Sabres showed an ability to win a different type of game on Tuesday. Unlike their last two victories, when they entered the third period with multi-goal leads, the odds were stacked against them in this one. They were down a defenseman, trying to win against a team that had badly outplayed them in the middle part of the game.
"That's' what good teams do I guess," Larsson said. "They find a way to win."
An early break
The Sabres benefitted from scoring early on Dubnyk, whose shutout streak ended at a franchise-record 184:59. Bylsma spoke in the morning about generating more shots from his defensemen, and said the team knew that to beat Dubnyk it'd take a long shot from the point. The Sabres' defensemen came out firing early, and O'Reilly stationed himself near the net to capitalize on the rebound after a shot by Rasmus Ristolainen.
Jonas Brodin tried to clear the initial rebound from the crease, but it deflected off of O'Reilly's skate. O'Reilly gathered the puck and buried a shot for his fourth goal of the season to give the Sabres the lead 3:16 into the contest.
Video: BUF@MIN: O'Reilly knocks in loose puck for early lead
"One of our keys was getting in front of him, making it tough, making sure he can't see," O'Reilly said. "It gives us a little confidence that we can score on this guy."
No update on Bogosian
Bogosian left the game with a knee injury with 5:34 remaining in the first period and did not return. Bylsma said afterward that the injury was a result of Bogosian's skate getting stuck on a play along the wall, but did not have an update on its extent.
The Sabres will take the day off on Wednesday prior to hosting Auston Matthews and the rival Toronto Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center on Thursday night (Tickets are still available!). Coverage of that game begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 500. The puck drops at 7 p.m.