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Not Cleared for Takeoff

Score: Sabres 2 | Jets 3 (SO)

Shots: BUF 37 | WPG 27

Buffalo Sabres Goals:

1)     Girgensons (Butcher, Okposo)

2)     Girgensons (Jokiharju, Okposo)

Winnipeg Jets Goals:

1)     Wheeler (Dubois, Stastny)

2)     Appleton (Ehlers, Heinola)

3)     Wheeler (Shootout Game Winner)

Plus 1: Dominant Start

The 1st period was a case study in how to jump on a road team. Winnipeg looked completely outmatched by the Sabres forecheck which led to the opening goal by Girgensons. The relentless style of play was great to see as the team was coming off the high of their impressive come from behind victory against Chicago on Monday. As fun as that win was, it’s more indicative of long-term success to come out flying against a solid team on your home ice. It set the tone for the rest of the game as Buffalo outshot Winnipeg by 8 after the first and ended the game outshooting the Jets by 10. If not for some great saves by Connor Hellebuyck, they could have easily been up 2 or 3 goals heading into the 2nd period. Speaking of Hellebuyck…

Minus 1: Hellebuyck Steals the Show

The problem in Winnipeg has certainly not been goaltending since Hellebuyck became their starter. The former Vezina Trophy winner reminded everyone the impact he can have on the Jets’ success. Specifically in the 1st period when the Sabres were dominating play, Hellebuyck was the only thing that kept Winnipeg in the game. Although Girgensons was able to put a couple by him, the key saves on a Thompson breakaway and a Tuch one-timer as the 1st ended were game saving stops. The Jets’ only hope of sneaking into the playoffs rests on the continued stellar play from their netminder.

Plus 2: All Hail the Zemi-god

Zemgus Girgensons has been missed from the Sabres linup for half of the season, and last night was a great example of just how big his absence was. He has developed into a premier defensive winger over the years, but his impact goes beyond that. The Latvian Locomotive brings an energy to the game that clearly rubs off on his teammates. He has rounded out the Sabres shutdown line of him, Eakin, and Okposo. Any offense from that line has been gravy, but the real value comes from their ability to wear on opponents with their relentless forchecking and suffocating defensive zone play. For someone who has been here through every painful moment of the last 8 seasons, and he continues to leave it all on the ice every time he puts on a Sabres sweater. There’s a reason he was given a letter at the start of the season.

Final Thoughts

The Sabres continued their impressive stretch of play against playoff contending teams. Although you would hope for a couple more finishes when the shot and chance advantage were heavily in Buffalo’s favor, especially early on, there will be nights when a goalie of Hellebuyck’s stature steals what could have been a great way to start a homestand. This win helped the Jets stay only two points behind Vegas for the last wild-card spot with a game in hand.

Draft pick watch continues as the Western Conference playoff race heats up. The impressive start and overall performance by Buffalo is another encouraging sign for future success to close out a month that proved to give Sabres fans more hope than we’ve had in a long time.

Now the attention shifts to RJ night on Friday. This team seems primed to honor the legend with a great performance in front of a presumed sell out crowd. Let’s hope the team makes RJ and all of us proud.