Tonight marked the beginning of a new era in Buffalo Sabres hockey.
For the first time since May 11, 1997, Ted Nolan was behind the bench as the coach of the Buffalo Sabres. To say the atmosphere in the First Niagara Center was a little different tonight is an understatement.
“When there is a playoff atmosphere, those are the best game for a lot of guys in this room,” Ott said. “It is a lot of fun to play in those types of atmospheres.”
Not only were fans all jacked up on nostalgia, but there were a large amount of Maple Leafs fans present.
Both the Sabres and Leafs came out of the gate firing on all cylinders, although scoring chances were not massively abundant.
As the period continued on, play became increasingly physical, mostly when the fourth lines found themselves on the ice at the same time.
Buffalo, who outshot Toronto 10-5, had some beautiful chances throughout the first. Ville Leino had a couple chances, both right at the mouth of the goal. Tyler Ennis also had himself a great scoring chance, when Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier found himself on the seat of his pants.
Heading into the second period, it was clear that the Buffalo Sabres were the better team through twenty minutes.
Toronto hold of the momentum out of the second period gates, but could not find themselves any offensive pressure. Buffalo continued to employ the trap on Toronto, limiting their shots on goal.
That would changes as Trevor Smith, at 6:25, would score his 2nd goal of the season, with an assist from Christian Ehrhoff’s skate, and put Toronto up 1-0.
Buffalo would not be out done though. The effort level stayed high for the Sabres, and then a little luck would help them out.
While on the power play, caused by a Mark Fraser cross check, Buffalo got themselves on the board.
Tyler Myers let off a booming shot from the point, which turned into a juicy Jonathan Bernier rebound. The rebound was pushed to the left, where it just so happened that Steve Ott was placed.
Ott would put the rebound home for his 3rd goal of the season.
Just when Buffalo found themselves with momentum, Marcus Foligno gets called for a trip and sends Buffalo to the penalty kill. While the penalty kill was impressive but uneventful, it would only be a precursor to what would happen.
Steve Ott would get possession of the puck and headed towards the Sabres offensive zone, as he was joined by Foligno on the rush. This play quickly turned into a 2-on-1. At the absolute last second, Ott passed the puck across to Foligno. Ott’s pass caught Jonathan Bernier offguard, so Foligno was easily able to put the puck home.
“When you’re in the box waiting, you’re just hoping that maybe when you get out of the box you get a chance,” Foligno said. “When it happens, you have to take full advantage of it.”
Foligno’s goal was the Sabres second of the game, and Foligno’s third of the season.
Buffalo began the third period with the lead, and seemingly came out in protect mode.
Toronto found themselves getting many chances early, but couldn’t make anything out of it.
The Sabres penalty kill really saved them in key situations this evening, especially during the third when both Stafford and Tallinder took penalties that easily could have shifted momentum towards Toronto.
As the time dwindled off the third period clock, the intensity grew.
Toronto continued to pressure in the offensive zone, getting good chances on multiple occasions. Late in the period, those chances came to a head.
Ryan Miller had just been clipped by a Toronto player, when the left side of the net was left wide open.
“I got spun out,” Miller said. “Their guy caught my right side and I was trying to keep myself moving back towards the net.”
As a shot was taken from the point, only Christian Ehrhoff stood between Toronto tying the game. Ehrhoff crouched down, sacrificing his body, to make an incredible save. Just seconds after, Ehrhoff found himself launching the puck the length of the ice. The puck miraculously found its way into the net, sealing the victory. This goal was the third of the game for Buffalo, and first of the season for Ehrhoff.
“It was just a great finish to a fun game,” said Ehrhoff. “We competed for 60 minutes, and it was very positive to see that.”
With this win, the Sabres now hold a record of 5-15-1 and have 11 points.
This also was the first win for head coach Ted Nolan as a Buffalo Sabres head coach since a playoff victory against the Philadelphia Flyers on May 9, 1997.
“I can’t even put it into words,” said Nolan. “Hopefully it is a sign of good things to come.”
Buffalo has a quick turnaround, as they take the ice tomorrow night at the Air Canada Center to face the Toronto Maple Leafs on the back end of this home-and-home series. Puck drops just after 7 PM, and the game will be broadcast on MSG.