ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Johan Larsson doesn't score a lot of goals for the Buffalo Sabres but he's getting a penchant for notching some big ones.
Larsson snapped a tie with 6:26 left Tuesday night to give the Sabres a 2-1 win over the Minnesota Wild in Xcel Energy Center. It was the 24-year-old's second game-winning goal in three games -- and his seventh in the last two seasons.
Larsson, in fact, finished tied with Jack Eichel for the team lead in game-winning goals last year with five. His latest winner came as he drove the net and took a pass from captain Brian Gionta, beating Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk with a shot that Larsson directed off the shaft of his own stick.
"Gio made a good play on a chip to himself," Larsson said. "I didn't know if he was going to catch up to it or not so I figured I would drive the net and see what happens. It bounced on my stick and in so I got a little lucky."
"By the time I settled the puck I was almost at the goal line," Gionta said. "So he did a great job of slowing himself and staying in front."
While the goal itself may have been fortunate, the setup to the play that avenged Thursday's 4-0 loss to the Wild was not. Larsson had to be in the right position to take Gionta's pass, just at a time when the Sabres were looking for somebody to make a play and snap the tie. Larsson had shown an ability to do that, with seven game-winning goals among his 18 in the NHL.
"It's the way he plays the game up and down the ice," Gionta said. "He's a two-way player who's on the right side of the puck so he finds good spots."
"It reminds me of Danny Briere. He used to be the 'GDub' king," center Ryan O'Reilly joked about the former Sabres center, referring to the stat's GWG acronym. "It's good. We need to get 'Lars' on the ice when we're tied."
Larsson was drafted in the second round by the Wild in 2010 and acquired by the Sabres in a multi-player deal in 2013 that included captain Jason Pominville getting sent to Minnesota. As you would imagine, he had no explanation for his timely scoring.
"It just happens. Fortunately I'm out there and I get a little bit lucky," Larsson said with a big smile. "It's good to do that against them. It was a tough loss the last time against them and that game really hurt."
The Sabres won their third straight game and improved to 4-3-2 on the season, producing a record of more wins than regulation losses for the first time since they were 2-1 three games into the 2013-14 lockout season. They also ended Minnesota's three-game winning streak, forged on a trio of Dubnyk shutouts.
"He did have the knack for getting the big goal at the end of last year," coach Dan Bylsma said of Larsson. "Tonight we're trying to scratch out some kind of offense in the third period. There's nothing really fancy about him coming through here. We said before the game to get one by Dubnyk it's going to have to be an ugly one, standing in the blue paint to get it."
There was a grit factor to this one that was unmistakable. The Sabres lost Zach Bogosian to an undetermined knee injury when his skate got caught in a rut and that left them with just five defensemen for the game's final 45 minutes. Cody Franson moved in and out of pairs and played 15:20, so that left heavy minutes for the other four.
Dmitry Kulikov played 27:40, Rasmus Ristolainen clocked in at 25:18, Josh Gorges was at 22:42 and Jake McCabe 22:21. The totals for all except Ristolainen were a season high.
And Buffalo survived some intense pressure over the final two minutes with the line of O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson stuck on the ice due to three icing calls. The Sabres blocked four shots in that span to preserve the win, a game that saw goaltender Robin Lehner stop 27 of 28 shots but not have to make a single save in the final six minutes.
"It was gut-check time in that point in time and I thought the guys battled it out hard there at the end," Bylsma said. "It's one you've got to gut out and we got some huge shot blocks."