By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The euphoria continued at the foot of Main Street on Tuesday night.
Who can blame anyone for getting swept up in what the Buffalo Sabres have been doing during the month of November? They are on a ride that might be unmatched in terms of the franchise’s history, which goes back to 1970.
The Sabres won their 10th game in a row, a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks before another sellout crowd at the KeyBank Center. That streak ties the all-time franchise record for consecutive wins. When you consider that this team finished 31st last season, it’s beyond amazing.
“It tells you something,” Rasmus Ristolainen said about the 10 wins. “We did things right in the offseason. We talked in the summer about what went wrong. We did well in training camp. It feels great.”
The wins themselves would be reward enough. Tuesday’s victory was their 17th of the season; it took the Sabres until Feb. 13 of last season to reach that number. They only need nine more wins to surpass the 2017-18 total, and have four-plus months to do it.
But it is how the wins are coming that is making this such a magical ride. Seven of these 10 wins have come in either overtime or shootouts. Either the law of averages has been repealed, or the Sabres are intent on ending years of bad karma within the span of a month.
Buy a ticket to the Sabres these days, and you know you’ll have a happy ending at the end of the game. You don’t know how you’ll get there, but you’ll get there. Compared to the Sabres lately, performances of “Hamilton” up the street are staid and predictable (if admittedly spectacular in a much different way). No wonder the patrons are feeling overwhelmed.
“It’s great for them,” Ristolainen said. “They’ve been here for my six years, and they’ve been tough years. It’s great to see this.”
Tuesday’s game was yet another way to come up with a victory. With the game scoreless in the second period, Ristolainen carried the puck down the left side, moved the puck through his legs, cut around Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, and scored into the top corner while zipping through the crease. Shades of … Bobby Orr? Paul Coffey? Phil Housley?
“He comes down the wing and sees and opportunity,” Housley said. “He had a ton of speed coming down. It was a great individual effort.”
Early in the third period, Nathan Beaulieu saw a chance to cheat from the left point and head for the net. He attracted Sam Reinhart’s attention with a scream, accepted a perfect pass, and put it in the net.
“Sam made a world-class play, and I just put it in,” Beaulieu said. “I wanted to make sure he saw me.”
With less than 15 minutes to go, the fans could begin to taste the record-tying victory. They were counting up to nine and adding, “WE WANT TEN!” It was almost as if everyone wanted that 10th win a little too much, because the Sharks rallied to tie. Joe Pavelski had both goals – one a one-timer that was blasted from the left side, while the other was a wraparound that was tapped like a three-foot putt.
“When we got that second goal, we took our foot off the gas a little bit,” Housley said.
Skinner to the rescue
But when the game got to overtime, circumstances almost demanded that the Sabres figure out a way to win again. Sure enough, somehow the puck wound up on the stick of – who else? – Jeff Skinner. A quick move and shot, and No. 10 was in the books. It was Skinner’s 19th of the season, and it came on his only shot of the night. Storybook stuff.
“I didn’t see what happened,” Skinner said about the goal. “Rasmus (Dahlin) made a great play going in, and I guess I walked into it.”
“They haven’t gotten too high or too low,” Housley said about his team’s handling of the rash of good fortune. “Everyone is contributing.”
Yes, it’s only November. Yes, the Philadelphia Flyers won 10 games in a row last season – and missed the playoffs. Yes, the team’s run of good fortune can’t last forever.
Blah, blah, blah.
No one wants to hear any of that. The fans are experiencing a period of unexpected, complete joy. There is no better moment in all of sports than that.
“They were loud tonight,” Beaulieu said. “You get emotionally into the game right away, with how loud they are and how dedicated they are. It’s nice to see them get involved. It’s special.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)