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Halfway Through the Season: Sabres Defeat Predators, 5-3

Buffalo snaps losing streak with solid win in Smashville

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Score: Sabres 5 | Predators 3

Shots: BUF 33 | NSH 41

Buffalo Sabres Goals: Jeff Skinner (18), Dylan Cozens (14), Victor Olofsson (17-PP), Kyle Okposo (7-SH), Jack Quinn (7)

Nashville Predators Goals: Roman Josi (11-PP), Jeremy Lauzon (3), Ryan Johansen (10)

Plus-1: Solid First Period

It was a tough week for the Sabres with their three-game losing streak, but tonight seemed to head in a different direction right from the initial faceoff. While both teams came out strong with pucks to the net and offensive pressure, Buffalo looked especially solid in the opening twenty minutes. Specifically, the Casey Mittelstadt/Tyson Jost/Victor Olofsson line had some excellent chances halfway through the period, with Olofsson trying to dipsy-doodle his way onto the scoreboard. Ultimately, Jost drew the tripping penalty that would give the Sabres the first powerplay of the game. Entering tonight’s game, Buffalo was 1-for-10 with the man-advantage and, even though they did not bury the puck during these two minutes, it gave the team the momentum they needed to score just a few minutes later. Thanks to a nifty long pass by Tage Thompson, Jeff Skinner was able to deke his way past Preds goaltender Juuse Saros on the right side and claim the first lead of the game. Nashville would later tie it up on their powerplay, but it was a fun period for fans of both teams nonetheless.

Plus-2: Momentum Brings Two More

Taking far less time than the first period, the Sabres found themselves on the scoreboard not one but two more times. Buffalo’s second goal of the night, scored by Dylan Cozens, was a thing of beauty and came just seconds after Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made two huge saves on the other end of the ice. JJ Peterka deserves praise here with his quick backhand pass at the blue line to Cozens to give the visiting team their second lead of the game. With tonight’s goal, Cozens has officially surpassed his previous career-high in goals, which he set last season in 79 games.

At almost the exact same time as the first period, the Sabres went on the powerplay again in the second period. This time, Olofsson’s slapshot found the back of the net just 39 seconds into the the man advantage to give his club a two-goal lead.

Minus-1: Well, That Escalated Quickly

The only thing worse than witnessing a lead being blown is a multiple-goal lead being blown. If this seems a little bit like deja vu, that could be because the Sabres did just that at home last weekend against the Minnesota Wild (though they did end up winning that game in overtime). Tonight’s lead was snatched from the Sabres with two Preds goals that came just 40 seconds apart with four minutes remaining in the second period.

Coincidentally, the Sabres have given up at least three goals in every game that they have played since mid-December.

Plus-3: O Captain! My Captain!

Just when Sabres fans may have been losing hope, captain Kyle Okposo maneuvered a fun shorthanded goal between his legs to give the Sabres another lead, 4-3. The goal came during an impressive penalty kill effort following Jost’s undisciplined slashing penalty and is Okposo’s fourth shorthanded goal of his career.

Grinding hard for the final four minutes of the game was the Peterka/Cozens/Quinn line and it finally paid off with Quinn’s quick shot on knee his late in the third period.

It was fun to watch the odd-man rush throughout this game, which was 13-2 in favor of Buffalo.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was a hard-fought game by both teams, but Buffalo ultimately never gave up the push for a win (despite giving up that two-goal lead in the second period). Luukkonen deserves a lot of credit, too, especially in the final two minutes of the game when Nashville pulled their own goalie to give their team the extra attacker. The pressure was on and the Finnish goaltender never faltered. The Sabres are now 12-7 on the road including tonight’s victory. They will look for another win as they travel back home for their next game - a matinee - against the Florida Panthers. Puck drop will be Monday at 1:00 PM.

Three Stars:

1. Kyle Okposo

2. Ryan Johansen

3. Jeff Skinner