The Buffalo Sabres hopped on a road-weary San Jose Sharks team early in the first, fell asleep at the wheel near the end of the second and finished up strong in the third before 18,017 assumed-and-relieved Sabre fans Thursday night at HSBC Arena.
Paul Gaustad got the ball rolling with his second of the year off of a faceoff and a defender’s helmet at 12:18, fooling Sharks goalie Antti Niemi and giving the hard-driving Sabres a 1-0 lead that would hold through the remainder of the first period.
Thomas Vanek kept the Sharks on their heels with his 12th of the year at 6:48 of the second stanza, putting the Sabres ahead 2-0 before Jason Pominville unloaded a grand piano off of his back with a short-handed tally at 13:26, pushing the lead to 3-0 in the latter half of the second period.
But not so fast.
The Sabres are guilty of yet another “too many men” penalty at home in the second period, and Sharks rookie sniper Logan Couture makes them pay on the power play with his 14th goal. 3-1 Buffalo.
Not long thereafter, Marc-Edouard Vlasic caught the Sabres looking for orange slices too soon at 19:15 of the second period and closed the Sabre “lead” to one goal heading into the final period.
Early in the third, however, Cody McCormick gave Buffalo, and Ryan Miller especially, some much-deserved breathing room, converting a Paul Gaustad feed in the slot and beating Niemi at 0:31, increasing their lead once again to 2 goals.
The infamous Buffalo Sabre defensive shell kicked back in, and Douglas Murray inevitably cracked the code with his first of the season at 9:26, bringing the Sharks back to within one.
The remainder of the game resumed its defensive nature, and eventually, San Jose was forced to pull Niemi. Soon, the Goose (Gaustad) fired in an empty-netter from around center ice, his third of the year and second of the game at 19:33, putting the hometown boys up 5-3 with 27 seconds left to go. The Sharks were ready for the showers it seemed, when Thomas Vanek popped in his second of the game 18 seconds later, salting away the Sharks with his 13th of the season.
The Sabres won 6-3.
Ryan Miller, once again, was quietly spectacular, and the secondary scoring, which the Sabres have been lacking, finally brought their lunch to school. Good to see names like Gaustad, McCormick, Pominville and Gerbe showing up in the box score and on the ice.
Sid the Kid and his Pittsburgh Penguins skate into town Saturday night with an 11-game winning streak in their bags, while the Sabres look to continue their winning ways at home.