Hey Buffalo Sabres, are you kidding me right now?
Just one? No, one would just not do. Two? No, not just two. Two would not be good enough, not with the hole this team has dug for themselves this season — even if it was against the best team in the Eastern Conference.
No, the Sabres needed more and got it as Buffalo turned in its third consecutive victory in sudden-death overtime as Brian Gionta and Kyle Okposo erased a two-goal deficit with six minutes remaining in regulation before Jack Eichel won it in dramatic fashion in a 5-4 triumph over the Nashville Predators in Smashville Monday night.
Oh, Sabres fans could get used to this. Listen to the call by Rick Jeanneret whose heart nearly skipped a beat following Buffalo’s third straight walk-off win in overtime.
Wait, wait, wait.
Skate, skate, skate.
— NHL (@NHL) January 25, 2017
That’s three — count ’em — three straight overtime victories for the blue and gold, marking just the second time in franchise history the Buffalo Sabres have won three consecutive games in overtime. The previous stretch came Nov. 5-11 against the New York Rangers, Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers, respectively, during the 2006-07 season.
Here’s a rewind of the week that was:
Buffalo 3, Detroit 2 (OT)
Down by one with less than five minutes remaining, Ryan O’Reilly finished what Cody Franson and Justin Falk started as Buffalo battled back to tie and force sudden-death. From there, NHL All-Star Kyle Okposo planted himself in position to redirect O’Reilly’s pass past Detroit Red Wings’ goalie Petr Mrazek to pull out the win.
Okposo’s power-play goal was his team-leading 14th of the season.
Friday night hockey. Overtime win.
Hear the roar of the crowd & Rick Jeanneret’s call as we win our 4th straight at home. pic.twitter.com/G9EfslTHHD
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 21, 2017
Buffalo 3, Montreal 2 (OT)
Less than 24 hours after skating past the Wings in overtime in Buffalo the night before, the Sabres traveled north of the border to take on the number one team in the Eastern Conference — the Montreal Canadiens. Still high off their triumph at KeyBank Center in Western New York Friday night, the Sabres made themselves at home at Bell Centre in Quebec on Saturday.
Once again entering the third period with a deficit, Buffalo quickly erased it as Franson tied it with 8:07 left before Zach Bogosian won it 1:07 into overtime as the Sabres once again showed flair for the dramatic.
For Bogosian, who hails from nearby Massina, N.Y., his first goal of the season past Carey Price, blocker-side, couldn’t have come at a better time.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 22, 2017
Buffalo 5, Nashville 4 (OT)
Not to be outdone, the Sabres set the stage once again, allowing the Nashville Predators to take a two-goal lead with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation before storming back to tie it and force sudden-death for the third consecutive game.
Okposo and Brian Gionta scored 4:45 apart before Jack Eichel went coast-to-coast and across the grain before ripping home his second-career game-winning goal past Juuse Saros in overtime to seal it.
This one might have been the most spectacular considering Sabres’ coach Dan Bylsma pulled goaltender Robin Lehner for an extra attacker at the time of Okposo’s game-tying goal, which came with just 1:05 remaining.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 25, 2017
The Montreal Canadiens won an NHL record 10 playoff games in overtime during its memorable run in the 1993 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including a couple Buffalo goalie Grant Fuhr might like to forget, but they were not consecutive.
What We Have Learned
There is no quit in this team and not a moment too soon. And with its injury debt to the hockey gods seemingly settled, better late than never for a team that is slowly carving out an identity with Eichel as its poster boy.
With three straight wins, their first three-game winning streak since an Oct. 29-Nov. 1 stretch, the Sabres are now two games over .500 at 20-18-9 and four points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We got down two goals on the road against a really good hockey team, and we were able to find a way to get it to overtime and win it,” Eichel told The Buffalo News‘ John Vogl at Bridgestone Arena Monday night. “It says a lot about the resiliency of this team. It’s nice to be part of games like that.”
Eichel smiled and added, “I think we need to start winning some in regulation, though, to make it a little bit easier on ourselves.”
“The team showed a lot of character staying with the game,” Bylsma said. “Our guys on the bench were saying we could come back and they did.”
Above all, a different player is stepping up for the Sabres each night. It was O’Reilly and Okposo in Detroit, Bogosian and Lehner in Montreal and then Gionta and Eichel in Nashville. That kind of depth up and down the lineup where everyone is contributing is the make-up of a good team, a playoff-bound team.
Lost in Lehner
Aside from his extraordinary save on the Canadiens’ Alex Galchenyuk, Robin Lehner has actually been among the best players on the ice for the Sabres going 7-3-1 over his last 12 starts to improve to 12-12-5 with a 2.57 goals-against average and sparkling .921 save percentage.
Rick Jeanneret: “I’ve seen everything now… Robin Lehner, if you don’t get a standing ovation, YOU are getting robbed blind.” pic.twitter.com/1kfvhn2ks5
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 22, 2017
Truth be told, if the Sabres’ key players continue to develop and the team gets sound goaltending night in and night out from Lehner and Anders Nilsson (8-6-4, 2.52 GAA, .925 Save%) stranger playoff runs have happened. The team is looking for its first playoff berth since 2010-11.
Keep on truckin’ Buffalo.
New Jersey Devils One Jersey Grass Roots Writer; 13 years writer/reporter for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com; 1st-year with The Hockey Writers; Previously covered the Boston Bruins, Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots for The Casco Bay Weekly; Portland Pirates (AHL) 2002-’03; Director of Media Relations The Eastern League (AA) 2000-’02; Great Skate 1997-2000; Buffalo Sabres 1994-’97; Buffalo boy, Maine grad; International hockey player and coach; #Buffalove #OneBuffalo