ST. PAUL, Minn. – It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish. Unless of course you score three goals in the first period, which is exactly what the Buffalo Sabres did on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center.
Jamie McGinn, Rasmus Ristolainen and Brian Gionta each tallied to produce Buffalo's first three-goal first period of the season and the Sabres survived an onslaught in the final minute for a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild, their second in a row.
After scoring just one first-period goal during a six-game losing streak, the Sabres have now put forth multi-goal efforts in the opening 20 minutes of back-to-back games. So what is the team doing that's so different to begin games?
"Scoring," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said with a laugh. "You know what, we've probably played the best in our first periods and not gotten the goals, not gotten the scoring chances to go in. The last two games it's been the opposite. We've played well in the first but we've gotten the goals to go in, we've gotten the pucks behind the goalie and it's been nice to be able to get out in front."
Linus Ullmark was solid again for his second straight victory, making 28 saves. Devan Dubnyk made 20 saves for the Wild, who received a shorthanded goal from Ryan Suter in the second period and a 6-on-5 tally from Tomas Vanek with 51.8 seconds remaining.
McGinn opened the scoring for Buffalo 9:37 into the contest. Evander Kane raced into the offensive zone to retrieve a dump-in, won a battle behind the net and skated around to the slot from where he was able to put a backhand shot on net. McGinn cleaned up the rebound for his ninth goal.
"We were working hard and then Kaner drove to the wall and cut to the middle, which broke them down," McGinn said. "He goes, 'be ready for the rebound,' so I know when Kane takes that seam he's going to be able to get a shot on net so you have to be ready for the rebound and make sure it goes in the back of the net."
The same five Sabres were on the ice for the next two goals, which came within a span of 20 seconds in the final three minutes of the period. Ristolainen scored first on a shot from the point that deflected in off the stick of Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, who was engaged in a net-front battle with Marcus Foligno.
On the very next possession, it was Josh Gorges who took a high shot from the blue line that was tipped out of mid-air by Gionta for his fifth goal of the season.
The line of Gionta, Foligno and Johan Larsson has now contributed to four goals in the last two games. Larsson tallied an assist on Sam Reinhart's first goal after a line change on Sunday in Winnipeg and Foligno scored the game-winner in the third.
"We talked about it coming in after the first period," Bylsma said. "We're getting contributions from different lines and different people and we certainly did again tonight. Last game, a couple of those goals were in line changes and different combinations but I think prior to the last two games [Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly had] 24 assists on 30 goals.
"Right now we've been able to get goals from different people and different lines and that’s been a big part of the two wins."
MAYDAY'S MOMENT OF THE GAME
"In the first period, Evander Kane fought off his check and with confidence drove the seam into the slot and was able to fire a hard backhand shot on net. The play of Jamie McGinn in front got the Sabres on the board and set the tone for a three-goal first period." – Brad May, Sabres Studio Analyst
A 'WILD' LAST MINUTE
Things got interesting in the final minute after Vanek scored to make it a one-goal game with 51.8 seconds still to play. Those final seconds were filled with several opportunities for Minnesota to tie the game, but Ullmark and the defense held strong.
"The guys did a tremendous job in front of me," Ullmark said. "There were some pucks there where I didn’t see it and they blocked the shots … it's just how we need to play when we have such a lead."
SURVIVING THE SECOND
Buffalo was outshot 14-5 in the second period, but Minnesota was only able to strike once thanks in large part to Ullmark's play in net. His net was breached only once, with the Sabres on the power play. Ryan Suter burst into Buffalo's zone and put a shot on net that bounced high into the air and dropped in behind Ullmark 12:57 into the period.
Aside from that play, the goaltender was flawless. He had to be at his best to stop a shot on a 4-on-2 rush with 1:57 to play in the period, staying with the puck as it was passed three times ahead of him and being able to cover a pad save.
"I didn't think it was a 4-on-2 or something at first, I saw it was a 2-on-1," Ullmark said. "The guy holding the puck was slowing down and looking up and when he passed it there's another guy. I went to him and I realized, 'oh, he's not going to shoot it because he's turning away.'"
WEEKEND IN BUFFALO
The Sabres will return to First Niagara Center to begin a set of back-to-back home games on Friday night against the Boston Bruins. The two teams have met once this season, in Boston on Dec. 26, with Buffalo mounting a two-goal comeback in the third period to ultimately earn a 6-3 victory.
Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.