The Sabres have gradually been improving, but there was no proof of it. Essentially all Buffalo had to show for its increased effort was a 2-8-2 slump filled with one-goal outings. The Sabres needed something tangible to show that they are indeed progressing.
They have it now.
Buffalo scored four straight goals, overcame adversity and did plenty right Tuesday night in earning a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. It was their highest goal total in more than a month and the first time they won while trailing after two periods.
“The change is occurring,” captain Steve Ott said in First Niagara Center. “The character has changed immensely over the last month and a half or so. We knew it wasn’t an overnight process, but it’s the confidence continuing to grow with games and know that we could play with any team.”
The Sabres took advantage of a tired team to get rid of a ghastly doughnut. They had been 0-20-0 when trailing after 40 minutes, but they found the net three times in the third period to drop the Jets.
“That was obviously something we hadn’t seen this season, and it feels good,” defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said.
It was a feel-good night for plenty of people, including those in the small crowd that didn’t come close to the announced 17,795. Ott and Marcus Foligno ended 12-game scoring droughts to key the comeback and give Buffalo its first four-goal outing since a 5-4 shootout victory in San Jose on Nov. 5.
“We tried to get some net-front presence, and if you look at three of our four goals, they all came within the blue paint or pretty well close to it,” coach Ted Nolan said. “We just have to play an honest game from start to finish. If we do that, we’ll have a chance. This league is tough to win in if you don’t play an honest game.”
Despite doing many things right, the Sabres briefly showed why they are 8-23-3 and have just three regulation victories. After an impressive (but scoreless) first period that featured a 19-7 shot edge, Buffalo slept through the opening minutes of the second to fall into a 2-0 hole.
The Jets’ Mark Scheifele waltzed unobstructed to the net twice in the opening 1:38, giving a boost to a team finishing back-to-backs and its third game in four nights.
“Let’s be honest, our second period was horrendous,” said Ott, who woke the Sabres up by beating Ondrej Pavelec midway through the frame. “We knew they were going to be a little bit tired in that third period. If we didn’t come, we would’ve been mailing in a game and that would have been completely disappointing. That’s not what happened. We came out strong, took control of the third period like we did at the start of the game.”
The Sabres needed just 50 seconds of the third to tie it. Cody Hodgson sidestepped Winnipeg defenseman Grant Clitsome at the blue line, giving himself time to find Foligno at the top of the crease.
“From the first period we saw dominance, and we knew we just had to get back to it,” Foligno said. “We turned things around. You’ve got to work. You can’t get points in this league by being slow or lollygagging.”
Matt Moulson put the Sabres in front 2:31 into the third, deflecting Ehrhoff’s power-play pass. Two recent callups connected to put the game away as Matt Ellis knocked Kevin Porter’s airborne pass home with 6:22 left.
“Ted had some good words in between periods for us, and I think that help jump-start us a little bit,” Moulson said.
Nolan said he merely “raised my voice a little bit longer than I usually do,” but it worked as the Sabres left Nashville as the only team not to earn a point while trailing after 40 minutes.
“It was a really big character win coming back like that,” Foligno said.
The next chore is to add more evidence to their improvement file. They have back-to-back games against division-rival Boston on their agenda. They host the Bruins on Thursday and visit Boston on Saturday.
“It was nice to see the team rewarded for not giving up and continuing to work,” Nolan said. “When we simplify our game, we’re pretty good.”