The Buffalo Sabres look like a different team than they have all season: one that has chemistry, talent, and no quit in them. These qualities have led to one of the most successful months of hockey the Sabres have had in many seasons, the most successful stretch in recent memory coming back in 2018 when they won 10 straight games and sat atop the NHL standings, before ultimately missing the playoffs that season. Something feels different about this young, rebuilding team, however, and they finally feel like must-watch hockey again. In this edition of Sabres Weekly, read about the latest Sabres storylines heading into a new week.
Sabres Mount Thrilling Comeback Against Blackhawks
The Sabres went into Chicago on Monday night fresh off a failed comeback effort, an overtime loss against the New York Rangers, in New York, the night before. The Sabres also played five straight games that needed extra time, so when they went down 4-0 against the Chicago Blackhawks early in the game, it certainly could have been attributed to tired legs. But instead of turning it in for the night, the Sabres managed to pull off one of the most exciting comebacks in team history, winning the game 6-5 in regulation, scoring to take the lead with 10.6 seconds left in the game.
It took them until the third period to rally back from a 4-0 deficit and tie the game, but the Sabres were able to get right back into things with time. They then went down by a goal before tying it again, and Sabres points-leader Tage Thompson scored a goal with a broken stick to give the Sabres the leg up, and the eventual win. Victor Olofsson, who has been streaky this season, also scored twice in the game, and recorded the first three-point game of his NHL career. Alex Tuch and Kyle Okposo also scored goals, as did Vinnie Hinostroza, who scored against his former team.
The last time the Sabres trailed by four goals and came back to win the game was way back on Jan. 21, 1989, when Sabres great Pierre Turgeon scored the game-winner in overtime against the Boston Bruins for a 6-5 win.
Sabres Surging With Recent Point Streak
After Monday’s comeback victory over the Blackhawks, the Sabres are now riding a six-game point streak, with a record of 4-0-2 in their last six games. Their only losses came against the Washington Capitals in a shootout, and against the Rangers in overtime. In the month of March, they have a record of 8-3-2, and have one game remaining this month, against the Winnipeg Jets.
The fact that the Sabres – who most people in the hockey world had predicted to start and finish at the bottom of the NHL standings this season – have put together a point streak like the one they are currently on, is exciting enough in and of itself. But what makes it even more impressive is that all of their wins in the month of March have come against teams in playoff position, save their wins over the Vancouver Canucks and the Blackhawks. They won victories over the Toronto Maple Leafs (twice), Minnesota Wild, Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, and Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sabres’ Top Players Leading the Way
Good teams in the NHL enjoy success over the long term for many reasons, but one big reason is that their best players are their best players. For the Sabres, their top players have been leading the way all season, but of late, it’s been more apparent. The winning that’s come with their strong play goes to show that it’s a recipe for success.
Thompson has led the Sabres in points all season, and has been the most consistent forward on the team. In his breakout season, he has posted 28 goals, 23 assists, and 51 points, all career highs for him, and counting. Jeff Skinner has put up 27 goals, 20 assists, and 47 points, a true bounce-back season for him after nearly two seasons under former head coach Ralph Krueger, who infamously demoted Skinner to the fourth line, where he underwent a scoring drought that lasted a full calendar year.
Veteran Kyle Okposo has 17 goals and 38 points for the most productive season he’s had in many seasons, while Olofsson is heating up and could eclipse the 20-goal threshold himself. He currently has 14 goals and 33 points. Other players like youngster Dylan Cozens and newly-acquired Alex Tuch are top contributors, showing Sabres fans that this roster could have some real depth for seasons to come. Rasmus Dahlin has re-emerged as an offensive threat, with 43 points of his own – good for third-most points among all Sabres skaters. With the Sabres’ top players playing this way, it’s hard to see them taking a step backward next season, and it’s creating a sense of excitement and optimism around this roster that Sabres fans haven’t had in a while.
The Sabres Week Ahead
The Sabres have enjoyed sustained success in March for the first time this season, but their road doesn’t become any easier from here on out. Sitting at 26th out of 32 teams in the NHL standings, the team is not making the playoffs, and it’s only a matter of time before they are mathematically eliminated from the postseason. That could take some pressure off of the players and allow them to play freely, but they’ll need to do it against good teams in playoff position.
The Sabres play their next three games at home at the KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo, facing off against the Jets on Wednesday, the Nashville Predators on Friday, and the Florida Panthers on Sunday. Rick Jeanneret, legendary Sabres play-by-play announcer, will be honored on Friday before the game against the Predators and will have a banner raised to the rafters bearing his name.