Wins do not come easily in the National Hockey League. Shutouts are even more difficult to obtain.
Anders Nilsson had to be good through the final seconds Saturday afternoon to pick up his second career NHL shutout.
Solid from the puck drop, the Buffalo Sabres' backup goaltender had to deny a late power play and ward off a penalty shot from Florida's Vincent Trocheck with 57 seconds left in the game to ice a 3-0 win over the Panthers in KeyBank Center.
"Never like that," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said when asked if he ever saw a shutout secured in that fashion. "He was going to earn the shutout with that stop."
And earn the shutout he did, making 33 saves to record the team's first shutout since a 4-0 win at Columbus on Feb. 19 and first home shutout since a 3-0 win over Anaheim on Dec. 17, 2015.
The shutout was merely an added bonus for Nilsson who drew his third straight start after Robin Lehner was sidelined with an illness.
"That’s always nice but I think the most important part is the two points we got," Nilsson said. "That was huge for us and means a lot for our confidence."
It meant a lot for Nilsson's confidence as well. On Tuesday he made 41 saves against the Flyers in Philadelphia, but dropped the game in a shootout. He recorded 21 saves in a 3-0 loss to Minnesota on Thursday.
Saturday, finally, the defense gave him the support he needed and the offense gave him a lead. It all added up to Nilsson's first win as a Sabre.
"He played really well for us. He has the last two games as well," Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosina said. "I don’t think we’ve put on the best product to help him out the last few games. Tonight we had a good bounce-back game. Any time that a goalie comes in when someone else is hurt or sick and can play well it’s a huge morale boost for him and the entire group. It’s a fun thing to be a part of. He works hard in practice and helps us get better. It’s nice to see him get rewarded."
He was playing so well early in the game that it gave Bylsma a little bit of nervous energy.
"I don’t like it when I have thoughts like this but in the first period he just looked so solid, so confident in net. I thought it was going to be hard to get one by him," Bylsma said. "And when you see your goaltender make three, four, five saves that are just hitting him right in the chest and he’s swallowing them up, you know he’s playing big and strong and square in the net."
While Nilsson was playing big and strong in the net, he was also the beneficiary of a good defensive game by the Sabres which allowed him to see shots and control rebounds.
"We played a very good, solid game. Great team game," Nilsson said. "I think we controlled the game throughout 60 minutes and played very good defensively and with very good structure. We didn’t give them a lot of chances and the chances or shots they had were mostly from the outside and the guys in front of me did a very good job boxing out and gave me a clear view of the pucks."
The penalty shot, which came with 57 seconds left in the game, became a waiting game. Nilsson stood his ground as Trocheck skated in then shot the puck wide.
"It’s not very often you see a penalty shot with less than one minute to go in the game," Nilsson said. "Just tried to stay as patient as possible and wait him out. I think I got a little lucky, too, because he missed the net."
It was Nilsson's second career shutout. It was back on March 4, 2012, in his second NHL start, where as a member of the New York Islanders he stopped 24 shots in a 1-0 win over the New Jersey Devils.
The goal scorer in that game? Kyle Okposo.
Okposo scored again for Nilsson, this time for his second tally as a Sabre. His goal came on the power play in the second period and set a personal milestone.
"Yeah, that was my first goal in this rink," Okposo said. KeyBank Center was the "last rink in the East I haven’t scored in."
Okposo now has five points in six games with the Sabres (two goals, three assists) and more importantly was relieved to get the team win.
"We just played smart and kind of boring but hard at the same time," Okposo said. "We just were patient, waited for our chances. We let them make some mistakes and we played hard so I think that’s a heck of a win for us. I thought that was probably our best start of the year."
It wasn't the best return to Buffalo for defenseman Mark Pysyk. He lost his helmet on a third-period penalty kill and was in front of his own net when Sam Reinhart's pass from behind the net went off his skate and past Florida goalie Roberto Luongo for an own goal.
Pysyk, who was drafted by the Sabres in 2010 and played in 125 games over four seasons with the franchise, was traded to the Panthers in June. In return, Buffalo got defensman Dmitry Kulikov.
Pysyk finished the game with one blocked shot in 18:56 of ice time and was on the ice for both of Buffalo's power play goals.
Kulikov took an interference penalty in the second period and finished with one shot, one hit and one blocked shot in 21:56 of ice time.
The Sabres may find themselves down another forward as Nicolas Deslauriers had a collision along the boards in the final minute of the game. He went off the ice and was being evaluated. After the game it was unclear if he would make the trip to Winnipeg for Sunday afternoon's game with the Jets.
"We're looking at him right now," Bylsma said. "I don't know if he's going to be OK to go on the trip or not."
Asked if that meant a callup from Rochester Bylsma said, "we're going to have to if he can't go."