Maybe all the Sabres needed was a head coach, and not an interim head coach.
But Nolan only parceled out praise to a variety of players who helped secure one of Buffalo’s most impressive victories this season, notably to starting goaltender Nathan Lieuwen, who earned his first NHL win tonight.
“Nathan and I had a nice little conversation on the ice today; the one thing I wanted to see from him was his compete level,” said Nolan at his post-game press conference. “I thought he was really, really good tonight.”
Lieuwen certainly mustered a performance worthy of praise, stopping 33 of 35 shots thrown his way, as well as seven of New Jersey’s nine shootout attempts. He even got the energized First Niagara Center crowd to repeatedly chant “Lieuuu” as he made a number of acrobatic saves throughout the contest.
“It was unbelievable; one of the most amazing feels of my life and I’ll never forget it,” said Lieuwen, who was all smiles as he talked about his first NHL victory. “I felt like I belong here, and that’s a great feeling when you’re in the NHL.”
Tyler Ennis was another player with a smile stretching across his face afterward. His two goals on the night brought his season total to 21, a new career-high for him.
Ennis’s first tally came early in the third period as he rushed to the net with Ville Leino. After accepting a pass from Leino near the crease, Ennis roofed it over New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider.
He added his second just over two minutes later as the home crowd continued to utter one of the loudest “Lets Go Buffalo!” chants heard this season. Cody Hodgson hurled a pass from one corner of the New Jersey zone to Ennis, who was parked alone at the side of the Devils’ net to throw it top shelf once more.
“It can be tough on [the fans] with the losses piling up, but they still fill the rink up, cheer loud and support us,” said Ennis. “I think that’s awesome that even though we’re in thirtieth place, we still get crazy fans to the game and a bunch of support.”
The crowd was no louder than when Leino stepped out onto the ice to take Buffalo’s ninth shootout attempt. The fans’ eruption when he scored the shootout-winning goal was equally thunderous—and that’s no April Fools.
“I mentioned to John Scott—‘watch the crowd go crazy on this one’,” said Nolan, smirk and all, on putting Leino in the shootout.
and Jaromir Jagr were just their second and third on 39 attempts.
New Jersey goals in regulation came from former Sabre Dainius Zubrus, who tapped a puck past Lieuwen while hovering in the Buffalo crease, and from Tuomu Ruutu, who had a deflection while on the power play.
The Sabres will play their next game Thursday evening as they travel to St. Louis to visit the Blues. The game will be Buffalo’s first against former goaltender Ryan Miller and former captain Steve Ott since both were traded just a few weeks ago. Puck drop for that contest is scheduled for 8 P.M. EST.