By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
It had been a day where you just didn’t want to listen to the news.
A spat between Saudi Arabia and Russia sent oil prices tumbling. The stock market reacted to that, among other developments, with the biggest point loss in raw terms (not by percentage) in its history. And the news concerning Coronavirus continues to snowball throughout the world, to the point where we don’t know what day-to-day life is going to look like by the end of the month.
Sports have served as a refuge from such days over the past century. It’s a chance to set aside our problems and think about something else for a few hours. That has its place as well as some value, even though it’s down the list of important developments for the planet.
The Buffalo Sabres did their part to bring a smile to the faces of their fans on Monday night. They ended a six-game losing streak with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals. An announced crowd of 16,539 left the KeyBank Center in a good mood, thanks to Dominik Kahun’s goal in the seventh round of the shootout, followed by Linus Ullmark’s save against Richard Panek.
Two tries at winning
In one sense, it was a game that had to be won by the Sabres twice.
The teams were tied, 2-2, with less than three minutes to go when Brandon Montour of the Sabres let a shot from high in the slot. It went into the net for a goal, but was waved off because of a goaltender interference call on Jeff Skinner against Braden Holtby that was questionable at best. At least the fans thought so, as the officials heard about their displeasure for the rest of regulation time.
“That’s tough,” Skinner said about the call. “I’ll get in trouble for this. It’s tight in there. There’s not a lot of space. He’s trying to box me out, hit my stick. We’re kind of going up against each other. I think the goalie kind of dragged his stick. I tried my best to get out of the way.”
Against Pittsburgh last week, the Sabres were also on the short end of a similar call that went the other way. Carter Hutton appeared to get knocked down, but a Pittsburgh goal stood up. Buffalo was left feeling confused about how the rule should be interpreted.
“It was a very frustrating experience,” coach Ralph Krueger said. “I think when something Is outside the crease like that, and it’s questionable, it shouldn’t be called on the ice. It should be called a goal, and then they can review it. It was a very soft, questionable call. We don’t what is called and not called.”
The Sabres did have the option of challenging the call. But if their challenge was turned down, they would have been assessed a two-minute minor penalty. That could have been fatal to Buffalo’s challenge, so Krueger had to sit on the bench and stew – at least until the shootout was over.
Good start, slow finish
The Sabres might have been a little disappointed that the game came down to that. Buffalo played a strong first 40 minutes in taking a 2-0 lead. Victor Olofsson completed an excellent passing play with a shot from the right circle for the only goal of the first period.
Then Jack Eichel followed with a power-play goal less than a minute into the second period. Eichel had not been sharp during the losing streak, and that goal got him going for the rest of the game.
“We obviously went through a tough stretch after the losses to Colorado and Vegas, where the pain of reality was hard to swallow,” Krueger said. “We’re getting over it now. … Jack looked a lot more comfortable today. He let go of that pressure that he was sharing with the rest of the team. As a result, he had a really strong game.”
The Capitals didn’t do much in the first two periods, but they came close to making up for it in the final period. Alexander Ovechkin scored a goal scorer’s goal off a faceoff, with a quick move in the slot to get free followed by a perfect shot. Later Dmitry Orlov took advantage of a double deflection to tie the game.
Ullmark comes through
But Washington couldn’t get the game-winning goal from there, and Ullmark was sharp throughout in his first game back in the lineup since the end of January. That was particularly true in the shootout.
“I was taking it penalty shot by penalty shot, especially in sudden death,” Ullmark said.
When the goalie made that final save, the team and fans could celebrate the end of a frustrating losing streak. But even so, there were reminders of the real world waiting as soon as the main arena was cleared.
The media was not allowed into the locker room after the game. The players came into the news conference area, one by one, in an attempt to reduce the chances of spreading a virus.
And then news reports said events in the San Jose area with more than 1,000 people in attendance – including three Sharks home games – could be cancelled in March due to concerns over illness.
The break from reality was over. Tuesday morning would be here much too soon.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)