As they sat in the dressing room counting down the minutes to the third period, the Sabres talked about the need to close things out. They’d let leads turn into defeats the last two times they were in front, so there were demons to exorcise.
Then, just 23 seconds into the third period, Buffalo took a penalty. A few guys on the bench looked at each other in disbelief.
“It started déjà vu with a penalty again right off the bat,” forward Zemgus Girgensons said.
This time, the Sabres finished the job. The 3-0 victory over Florida on Saturday brought belief back to the team and gave it something to carry into Sunday’s game in Winnipeg.
“It was great to get a win here, get confidence in the group,” center Johan Larsson said. “We played really well and deserved the win.”
The Sabres had created more questions than answers during their first six games, but the seventh allowed them to check off several boxes:
*They can win at home.
After starting 0-2 in KeyBank Center as part of a depressing drought that saw Buffalo win just 43 of 125 home games, the players came together at center ice after the final buzzer and saluted the crowd of 18,261.
“It’s awesome to get it at home,” Larsson said. “We haven’t scored here a lot, and it’s great to get the crowd into it a little bit.”
Buffalo held a lead after one period for the first time this season thanks to Larsson’s goal with eight minutes gone.
“We talked about getting a good start, getting some good feelings, get a couple good shifts,” Larsson said. “It helps if you get the lead, especially in the first period. I feel like the whole team gets going.”
*Their special teams can make a difference.
Buffalo’s power play went 2 for 4 and has found the net in five of the seven games. The unit improved to 25.8 percent this season, which ranked seventh in the NHL as the players packed their gear for a two-game road trip that also includes Minnesota.
Kyle Okposo scored during the second period after the puck bounced off teammate Sam Reinhart’s stick, the glove of Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo and the post. Reinhart put the game away on the power play with 11:12 to go when Panthers defenseman Mark Pysyk accidently kicked Reinhart’s pass to the front into his own net.
“While it wasn’t the prettiest 2-for-4 night, it was two big goals from our power play,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
The penalty killers had an impressive afternoon, going 4 for 4. They killed Larsson’s penalty in the opening seconds of the third, then had no trouble when Brian Gionta went to the box for delay of game with 5:16 left.
The clutch showing took away some of the sting of the 0-for-3 third period Tuesday in Philadelphia.
“Ultimately,” Florida defenseman Keith Yandle said, “it comes down to we weren’t able to find one on the power play and get that jump or spark that we needed.”
*Most importantly for the Sabres, they closed the door on a third-period comeback attempt.
Buffalo took a 2-1 lead into the final period of a 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary. It had a 3-0 advantage in the 4-3 shootout loss to Philly. The Sabres prevented the Panthers from cutting the 2-0 lead to one goal with the crucial penalty kill and calmly got home.
“We played more simple, made them go back for the puck and got on the forecheck,” Girgensons said. “That’s what we have to do. You build that confidence up and up and up, and that’s how you win games.”
“The game,” Bylsma said, “had a lot of good in it where we needed to be good.”