Thursday night’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche was the Buffalo Sabres biggest game of the year, as was the last game against Ottawa, and so too the next game against the Blues. This is the situation the Sabres are in – every game is a ‘must-win’ as the they continue to remain in arms-reach of the playoffs.
The Sabres somehow managed to capture the ever-illusive back-to-back win as they dropped the Avalanche 2-0. The Avalanche, a team all too reminiscent of a Sabres ‘tank’ team of a few seasons back, came into the game sitting dead last in the standings with only 32 points.
Aside from the opening shift of the game, the first period was dominated by Buffalo. They outshot Colorado 12-7, and mustered up a couple power-plays which led to some offensive-zone dominance. The Sabres fast pace was made noticeable by young-guns Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues, along with Ryan O’Reilly, who appeared to enjoy playing against his former team.
The Sabres opened the scoring early in the second period on a power-play goal from Sam Reinhart, his 13th of the year. Though not getting on the score-sheet, Jack Eichel had a huge hand in the goal as he drew the penalty late in the first period and also made a great play on the power-play to keep the puck in the offensive zone. He then followed that up with a pass to O’Reilly, who assisted on the goal.
Lately the Sabres have made a poor habit of imploding during second periods. That trend did not continue as the Sabres continued to pile on zone time and chances, leading in shots 21-11 after two periods.
Leading 1-0 after the second period, the Sabres found themselves in a precarious position. Coming back in games trailing after two periods has been a staple of this Sabres team of late. Maintaining and holding onto a 1-0 lead is a situation this team has rarely faced.
The Sabres handled it well though and showed maturity. Robin Lehner made timely saves while the Sabres team-defense held the Avs to the perimeter.
The landscape of the game completely changed though when “E-Rod” sprung Evander Kane with a stretch pass into the offensive-zone, leading to Kane’s team-leading 19th goal of the season. Colorado’s goaltender Calvin Pickard was certainly their best player, but was beat five-hole on Kane’s blistering wrist shot giving the Sabres the 2-0 lead, and the eventual final of the game.
Robin Lehner, calling his team out after a 4-2 loss to the Canucks, is certainly backing up his words with his play of late. He made 23 saves for his 2nd shutout of the season.
The 1-0 lead the Sabres carried through the game could have easily been squandered on a bad bounce or unlucky circumstance, but they maintained their composure and took advantage of an utterly pathetic team in the Avalanche.
Amazingly, after all the ups-and-downs this Sabres team has seen this year, they only sit 3 points out of a playoff spot with a record of 25-23-10.
The ‘biggest game of the year’ continues Saturday as the Sabres host the St. Louis Blues at the Key Bank Center at 1 p.m.