By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
All’s well that ends well for the Buffalo Sabres.
A quick look at the top of the scoresheet tells you the important parts about Buffalo’s victory over Los Angeles in the KeyBank Center on Tuesday night. The Sabres earned a 4-3 overtime win over the Kings. That ended a five-game losing streak that had everyone around the team a little on edge.
“If you want to be a good team, you can’t go on skids,” Jeff Skinner said. “You have to stop them as quickly as you can. It’s not always pretty. Sometimes you have to grind it out.”
Skinner’s analysis was right on target. This game was probably much too dramatic for the Sabres’ tastes despite its outcome. There were plenty of good signs and a few bad ones as the team continued its three-game homestand.
For starters, the Kings came in with everything working against them. Los Angeles had the league’s worst record, so that was strike one. In addition, the Kings played on Monday night in Detroit while the Sabres had been sitting around at home since Saturday afternoon. So that was strike two.
What is the last thing you want to do when playing a team that is in a situation like that? Give them hope that they have a chance of winning. The Kings got some of them when they scored the opening goal less than seven minutes into the contest. Zemgus Girgensons got that one back seven minutes later with a great individual effort that led to an unassisted goal.
A poor middle period
Still, there was lots of time for Buffalo to gain control of the game. Yet it was the Kings that was the better team in the second period, rolling up the shots and scoring two goals to take a 3-1 lead. The shots for those 20 minutes were 15-11 in favor of Los Angeles, and it felt like it if not more. Suddenly, a six-game losing streak seemed liked a distinct possibility.
“We talked about getting back to basics, and being the team we wanted to be,” Johan Larsson said about the mood of the Buffalo locker room in the second period.
“We addressed some things,” coach Phil Housley said. “I didn’t mind our first period, but in the second we got away from the things that had made us successful. When you face adversity, it’s going to be hard.”
Suitably inspired, the Sabres picked up their intensity level a couple of notches for the third period. They also caught a large break under the circumstances. The two Kings defensemen that casual fans know best – Dion Pfaneuf and Drew Doughty – left the game early because of injuries after playing less than 10 minutes. The already tired Los Angeles defensemen had only four available players for that third period, a huge disadvantage. Strike three.
“It’s good to be physical, but making them go back and take the puck out of the zone is the biggest thing,” Jack Eichel said about Buffalo’s attempts to wear down the remaining Kings’ blueliners.
Eichel provided a needed boost when he scored on the power play with less than four minutes gone in the third period. Then Larsson knocked home a pass from Lawrence Pilut around the crease. The game was tied, and the KeyBank Center sounded like it did two weeks ago.
“I started to beat my guy, and Lawrence made a good play,” Larsson said. “It hit my skate and went in.”
You could see the Kings’ gas tank reach empty with about five minutes left, as they had trouble simply getting the puck out of own zone for the rest of the night. The Sabres drew a couple of penalties in the last three minutes, one of which came with less than four seconds to go in regulation. That meant Buffalo had almost two minutes of a four-on-three edge in overtime.
Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen got the puck bouncing around the goal, and Skinner finished the job and the game with his 21st of the season.
“That was a planned play,” Housley said. “We want to get Rasmus to the net. I liked our shot mentality on the power play.”
In the grand scheme of things, it was nice that Los Angeles got a well-deserved point out of the game. Former Sabre draft choice Cal Petersen finished with 43 saves.
But the win was thoroughly appreciated by a Buffalo team that needed it. Now with Arizona coming to town on Thursday night, the Sabres will have a chance to start a modest winning streak. Still, they need to pick up their game from where it was at times on Tuesday.
“It’s been a tough road with the five losses,” Housley said. “It’s good to know we can win again.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)