The Carolina Hurricanes skated into Buffalo today for a matinee match-up against the Sabres. The 'Canes have been hot lately, coming in just a few points outside of a wildcard spot, and on a streak of four straight overtime games. Buffalo, on the other hand, remains near the bottom of the NHL standings.
Despite missing the services of Ryan O'Reilly and Tyler Ennis, the Sabres have played fairly well recently. Ten of their last eleven games had been decided by 2 goals or less. Trends continued for both teams today, as Carolina forced another overtime affair, thus involving the Sabres in another close final score.
After a scoreless first period, Phillip "Arby's Loaded Italian" Di Giuseppe got the 'Canes onto the board 7 minutes into the second frame, scoring from an awkward angle on Chad Johnson after Jack Eichel couldn't find a loose puck near the side of the Sabres net. Jeff Skinner notched an assist on the goal.
Just a minute later, the Sabres promptly responded. Buffalo captain Brian Gionta forced a turnover in the Carolina zone, which took a lucky bounce to the stick of Marcus Foligno. While falling backwards onto the ice, Foligno flipped the puck past Cam Ward for a highlight-worthy goal, his ninth of the season.
In the third period, another beautiful goal was brewing, as Rasmus Ristolainen, Evander Kane, and Sam Reinhart moved the puck in tic-tac-toe fashion to Jack Eichel, who buried the opportunity for a 2-1 Sabres lead. It was the 21st goal for Eichel. If Reinhart can get one more goal by seasons end, they will be the first pair of Buffalo rookies to get 20 goals in the same season in over 40 years.
The lead was short-lived, as Victor Rask tied it up on a Carolina power play just a handful of minutes later.
The game then moved into my personal favorite - 3 on 3 overtime! As usual, the fast-paced, back-and-forth action did not disappoint. For those watching, this may have had the best ending of any Sabres game so far this season. With time winding down, Kane flipped a puck from the Sabres zone into neutral ice, which Eichel calmly tracked down for a clear breakaway. Catching Ward moving, Eichel coolly slid the puck through Ward's five-hole, getting the game-winning goal with just one second left on the clock. The Buffalo players then celebrated as if it was a playoff victory.
While Buffalo is far down in the standings, this has been a fun season. I have enjoyed watching Eichel and Reinhart develop, and seeing Ristolainen grow his game. Johan Larsson has been playing superb recently, in my opinion. Potential number one goalie Robin Lehner has given some spectacular performances in the face of little goal support most nights. Ryan O'Reilly has become captain material. Matt Moulson needs to go somewhere.
With his pair of goals, Eichel is now second in rookie goal scoring, and in points, in the NHL. It is also the seventh most goals by a Sabres rookie. Johnson stopped 28 shots for the win. Buffalo is now off until Wednesday, when they will host the Montreal Canadiens.