By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
There was no more March Sadness for the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
There were only smiles as the players skated out on the ice after their convincing 6-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at the KeyBank Center. They reacted to the end of their 18-game losing streak with slaps and hugs, as they certainly realized that the weight of the world had been temporarily lifted off their backs. It was their first regulation win in the month of March since March 17, 2019 – which is, of course, Madness.
Now there’s no more talk about a record losing skid (0-15-3), which had tied the previous mark set in 2004 by the Pittsburgh Penguins. No more questions about the problems of the franchise in general and the team in particular. No more comparisons to other terrible NHL teams that went a full month of play with nothing but losses in the record book (a short ist that includes the 2014-15 Sabres). Everyone could enter the new month of April after a blissful night of sleep.
“Obviously relief,” Brandon Montour said when asked to describe the feeling of winning, which hadn’t been experienced since February 24. “We’ve spoken enough that we’re frustrated about the results we’re having. The guys have been positive, picking each other up. It was a full 60 minutes. Everyone was moving. It’s good that we got the good result.”
Coach Don Granato added, “There’s no question that it is important (to get a win) – to put the streak behind us and now everyone can move on. We had to block it out. Of course I want a win. We wanted to work on what we could control, and work together better. I feel that we are.”
A good start
It was difficult to know how both teams would react to Wednesday’s game, coming off the way Monday night’s contest. The Flyers did little for 40 minutes and fell behind by 3-0, only to storm back and win the game in overtime. Therefore, it felt as if it was important for both sides to set the tone. Buffalo did that with a goal at 9:32 of the first period. It was a little lucky, as a Sam Reinhart shot was going wide when it deflected off a Flyer and into the net. Sometimes you need a bounce, and the veteran – moved to center for this game in the light of a series of injuries at that position – got one.
“It was fun,” Reinhart said about the position switch. “I enjoyed it. It was good to come underneath the puck a little bit more. The defensive part went well. It’s an easy system to read off of.”
Less than three minutes later, Curtis Lazar followed a nice solo effort by Riley Sheahan to make it 2-0. But Sabres Nation has a long memory at this point, and Ivan Provorov’s goal off Montour four minutes into the second period brought back some memories of Monday. The Flyers took the first 11 shots of the second period, but goalie Linus Ullmark stopped them all.
Then from the Department of Unexpected Contributions came a goal from Steven Fogerty of the Sabres, he of zero career NHL goals entering the game. That added a little calm to the situation.
“It happened quickly,” he said about the goal. “It bounced off my skate, and I just whacked it in.”
And when Casey Mittelstadt make it 4-1 with 4:21 left in the second period, the Flyers pulled goalie Brian Elliott in favor of Alex Lyon – apparently convinced that Elliott’s magic spell over the Sabres had an expiration date. While a three-goal lead with 20 minutes obviously isn’t always safe these days, Granato felt good enough about his team to let them do the talking at intermission.
“I handed it off to those guys,” he said. “Usually you speak on what to do in the third and give thoughts from the coach’s office. We thought it was best to hand it to them. They knew what do to. I didn’t see as much panic as there might have been the other night. They absolutely got the job done under heavy pressure. Couldn’t have been a better scenario – playing the same team with the same lead. They grew from it.”
After a few minutes, it became obvious to both teams that the Sabres’ winless streak would end. Montour added to those feelings by scoring two shorthanded goals in a span of 37 seconds – one with the Flyers’ goalie pulled.
“You have to do your job out there,” he said. “Everybody played hard in the third. We didn’t give them much. Everyone stuck with it.”
Yes, the Sabres have played better since Saturday, when Ullmark returned (31 saves on 32 shots on Wednesday). They will need to continue to progress, since they still have what figures to be five more tough weeks of playing challenging teams and looking up at the rest of the league, and they’ll have even less firepower if expected deals for impending free agents like Montour and Taylor Hall take place.
Those concerns, though, could wait.
“When you win, it feels like a little bit of confirmation of what you are doing,” Granato said about his first NHL win as a head coach. “Winning confirms the processes you’ve gone through prior. I don’t get too high or low on wins. We have a tough game tomorrow (against the Rangers). You have to enjoy it for a few minutes and move on to the next one.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)