For the second consecutive game, the Buffalo Sabres battled back from being down at the end of two periods. Unfortunately, unlike Thursday’s game in Montreal, the Sabres fell short, losing in overtime to the Columbus Blue Jackets by a score of 5-4.
Despite only getting a point, this game felt like a victory in so many ways. Once again, fans were treated to a team capable to putting together a strong final frame in the pursuit of victory. Simply put, it’s a trait that’s been missing from pretty much every Sabres team we’ve seen over the past decade (or more).
Kyle Okposo got the scoring started just 1:38 into the first period, capitalizing on a two-on-one opportunity where Tage Thompson slipped him a beautiful pass beyond a diving Columbus defender.
The goal marks Okposo’s fifth point in his last six games, continuing his current three-game streak.
At 8:37, Pierre-Luc Dubois managed to even things up. Artemi Panarin did an excellent job of keeping his team on-sides, finding the streaking Dubois near the right dot. A lackluster poke-check attempt by Rasmus Ristolainen failed to impede the shot which beat Linus Ullmark on the blocker side.
The Sabres didn’t take long to respond however, as the red-hot Jeff Skinner regained the lead, extending his point streak to five games.
Jake McCabe fired a shot from the point which deflected off of a skate, finding Skinner on Joonas Korpisalo’s glove-side for the tap-in. He currently leads the Sabres with 12 points in 11 games.
Things got ugly real fast in the second period. Columbus came out like a team on fire, and similar to how the first period began, the Blue Jackets’ second equalizing goal of the night came just 1:34 after puck-drop.
After an ugly giveaway in the Sabres zone by Jake McCabe, Dubois had no trouble finding Panarin near the left dot where he easily beat Ullmark following another futile defensive effort from Ristolainen.
With less than four minutes remaining in the period, Cam Atkinson gave his team their first lead of the night, receiving a perfect pass from Riley Nash in front of the net. McCabe apparently blew a tire as the Blue Jackets’ forwards entered the zone allowing a two-on-one where they made minced meat of a collapsing Ristolainen who continued to put forth one of his worst performances in a Sabres uniform.
But wait, there’s more! A mere 31 seconds later, Atkinson would find the back of the net again, where instead of dishing the puck on yet another two-on-one opportunity, he rifled an absolute snipe on Ullmark’s glove side.
This is where fans would have tuned out last season. The 2017-18 Sabres squad seldom erased any type of third period deficit, let alone a two-goal advantage from a high-octane team like Columbus who experienced a huge momentum swing at the end of the second. Fortunately, this year’s team has some fight in them, and for the second consecutive game, they refused to go quietly.
At 2:32 in the third, Jason Pominville continued his outstanding play as of late, capitalizing on a beautiful no-look dish from Jack Eichel behind the Blue Jackets’ net.
It’s so refreshing to see Eichel skate with two wingers who don’t look completely unprepared when he does something creative to get the puck on their sticks. With a goal and an assist on the evening, Pominville now has eight points in his last four games since being promoted to the first line. So uh... who else owes Phil Housley an apology for criticizing that move?
Less than two minutes later, Casey Mittelstadt would register his first goal of the season on the power-play, tying the game at 4-4.
After Skinner had an opportunity to bank home Mittelstadt’s initial shot attempt, the 19-year-old crashed the left side of the net, burying home Skinner’s rebound. All season, Mittelstadt has been doing all of the little things right, but he just wasn’t showing up on the score sheet. Currently riding a two-game point streak (if you can call it that), perhaps the tides have turned in that regard.
Despite a valiant effort to force overtime, Panarin made quick work off of a questionable puck decision from Ristolainen, and ended things just 34 seconds into the extra frame. Ullmark should have made the save, but ultimately the onus is on Ristolainen, who honestly shouldn’t have been out there given his brutal performance throughout the game.
Regardless, there is certainly a moral victory to gain in seeing a young team pull together, fighting tooth and nail in the third to even things up and make Columbus pry a victory away from them. At 6-4-1, the Sabres are on the right path, and to go toe-to-toe on the road with one of the best offences in the NHL says a lot.
Buffalo will host the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center. Puck drop is at 7:00PM.
Final: Sabres 4, Blue Jackets 5 (OT)
Shots on Goal: Sabres 38 | Blue Jackets 37
Sabres Goals: Okposo (3), Skinner (6), Pominville (5), and Mittelstadt (1) (PPG)
Blue Jackets Goals: Dubois (3), Panarin (4), Atkinson (5), Atkinson (6), and Panarin (5)
Three Stars of the Game
1. Artemi Panarin (2 G, 1 A)
2. Pierre-Luc Dubois (1 G, 2 A)
3. Cam Atkinson (2 G, 1 A)