A back-and-forth affair turned into a big Buffalo Sabres victory thanks to a four-goal third period.
Heading into the final period Thursday night tied 2-2, Buffalo was able to pull away from the Vancouver Canucks 6-3 at First Niagara Center.
Torrey Mitchell’s second goal of the game put Buffalo ahead 4-3 with 7:17 remaining, giving Buffalo back-to-back victories for the first time since the middle of December. The Sabres now have points in three-straight and are 3-1-2 in their past six games.
“We want to keep building. We know where we are in the season and we need to continue to play a certain way in order to have success,” captain Brian Gionta, who had an empty-net goal and two assists, said. “That’s the culture we’re trying to instill and have going forward. We can’t wait until next year for it.”
Chris Stewart recorded a goal and an assist, Matt Moulson put up two assists and Brian Flynn and Andrej Meszaros both scored as well.
Michal Neuvirth made 27 saves in his seventh-straight start.
Buffalo had the big offensive output without their two leading scorers. Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons both missed the game due to lower-body injuries. Ennis could return by Saturday afternoon’s game in Florida while Girgensons is expected to miss a few weeks.
In their place, Buffalo recalled Philip Varone and Zac Dalpe from the Rochester Americans. They played with Johan Larsson, whom they’ve spent some time with on a line down on the farm.
Despite the absences of Ennis and Girgensons, Stewart thought the call-ups played a big part in the win.
“I thought we came at them in waves. That’s probably the few games this year where we’ve had four lines rolling top to bottom,” he said. “Kudos to that third line there, the guys getting called up really stepping up and bringing energy for us tonight. They looked good out there tonight.”
On a pretty passing play, Buffalo struck first. Cutting into the Vancouver zone, the line of Torrey Mitchell, Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson moved the puck around on the rush. A few quick passes led to them spreading out the Canucks defense and ended with Moulson making a quick pass out in front near the goal line for a Mitchell tap in.
It was Mitchell’s fourth of the season and his first in 28 games.
Vancouver tied it quickly with Shawn Mathias wristing one in 1:02 later. Vancouver had just three shots in the first period but skated into the dressing room in a 1-1 game.
In the second period, Janik Hansen put Vancouver ahead with a low shot from the point through traffic to put the Canucks ahead 2-1 at the 5:42 mark.
“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs this year so it seems like we’ve been in every type of situation,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think we got too flustered when that happened and we responded well.”
And Buffalo did respond.
Stewart tied the game with his 11th goal of the season 8:59 in. He collected the puck and blew past Canucks defenseman Adam Clendening. Stewart’s low shot made its way past Eddie Lack and just over the goal line.
Stewart had another great chance on a break a few minutes later that he rang off the goal post.
Meszaros put Buffalo ahead 4:46 into the third period on a slap shot from the right faceoff circle. With a screen by Gionta in front, Lack never really had a chance at it.
However, it didn’t take long for the two teams to be deadlocked once again when Daniel Sedin roofed a shot in at the 7:27 mark.
Then Buffalo closed the game out with three unanswered goals. Mitchell’s goal was followed up by one from Flynn, in which Stewart drove in and then hit Flynn in front for his fifth of the year. Gionta capped it off with and empty netter with 1.4 seconds to go.
“It’s fun to win,” Mitchell said. “Even though we’re obviously not going to be playing for the playoffs or tournament at the end of the season, it’s just fun to win and have that atmosphere around the rink.”
‘LATVIA ALL OVER AGAIN’
The success Buffalo has been having in the last little bit has reminded Sabres coach Ted Nolan and assistant coach Arturs Irbe of their experience building up the Latvian national program.
“Irbe and myself were talking. He says, ‘Latvia all over again,’” Nolan said. “It takes a little while to restructure and rebuild, to get the players to buying in what you’re trying to sell and compete and work.
“Now they’re doing it and don’t feel sorry for yourself when they score a goal and you’re down. You keep going and through Brian Gionta’s leadership with that group, he’s doing a tremendous job for us.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
The Sabres’ next game is on the road against the Florida Panthers. Faceoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. from BB&T Center. The Tops Game Night pregame show will begin at 2:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
It’ll be Buffalo’s final game before the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. on Monday. The Sabres won’t play at home again until March 14 when they host the New York Rangers.