Seriously, the future is now.
The Buffalo Sabres skated off the ice today with a thrilling 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks in a game where more than one of Buffalo’s young stars put on what was arguably their best NHL performance to date.
Jack Eichel earned his first two NHL assists. Jake McCabe turned in a career-high 23 minutes and 47 seconds of ice time. Goaltender Linus Ullmark bounced back after a dismal start just a few days ago against the Tampa Bay Lightning to fend off 35 Vancouver shots. Rasmus Ristolainen had his first multi-point game with two goals, the latter serving as the game winner.
Ristolainen even topped it off with one of the most smile-inducing celebrations in recent memory, when he fell to both knees and slid to center ice after blasting home the go-ahead goal with just 17 seconds left in the game.
“You have to have fun with the guys,” said defensemen Mike Weber following the game. “We were telling him that that was the biggest European celebration we’ve ever seen after a goal. But it was well worth it; when you score with [17 seconds] left you can do whatever you want.”
Ristolainen and the Sabres could consider themselves lucky to have the opportunity to celebrate late after enduring another listless start to a game. Buffalo and Vancouver went into the first intermission tied 0-0, but the Canucks dominated the opening period, outshooting the Sabres, 15-4.
Buffalo didn’t need much time in the second period to finally find their rhythm. They opened the scoring at 2:18 in the middle frame when Jamie McGinn earned his third goal this season by deflecting a brilliantly-placed shot from Mark Pysyk.
The Sabres doubled their lead at 8:10 while on the power play. Eichel’s lithe maneuvering in the corner eventually got the puck to Ristolainen near the blue line, and the young Finn launched a cannon of a shot that found the top corner of the Vancouver net over Ryan Miller—the former Sabres netminder who was making his first appearance on Buffalo ice since being traded nearly two years ago.
The Canucks battled back to eventually tie the game. Henrik Sedin earned his third goal this season at 13:33 of the second period, while Chris Higgins evened the score nearly midway through the third period on an unassisted goal, and his first tally this year.
Then Tyler Ennis decided to take matters into his own hands. He slipped into the Vancouver zone with under thirty seconds to play, deftly avoiding a slew of Canuck players before handing the puck off to Marcus Foligno, who then in turn sent it back to Ristolainen.
One shot later, and the Sabres all-but secured one of their most exciting victories in the last few years.
“I don’t know what the best part of the play was,” said Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma on the game-winning sequence. “Tyler carrying the puck and dancing through the four guys and entering the zone and making the play to Marcus, or the end result, the goal, but I thought it was a big goal for [Ennis]. He didn’t score […] but he really makes the play with his dancing ability up the ice, and Marcus as well. I think it was a big play for Tyler.”
The Sabres will leave their home fans happy for a while as they embark on a brief road trip down to Florida, once again. Buffalo will next play on Tuesday, the 10th at Tampa Bay. That game will start at 7:30 PM EST and will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports Network.
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