It's not pretty, but the Sabres are finding ways to win - The Buffalo News
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It's not pretty, but the Sabres are finding ways to win

Let's be clear – these are not the types of first periods the Buffalo Sabres want to have.

The last two games the Sabres have played poorly in the first period, finding themselves trailing their opponent on home ice.

But the last two games have also included rallies, and resulted in a pair of wins.

A goal 42 seconds into overtime from Rasmus Ristolainen gave the Sabres a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders in KeyBank Center Friday night.

On paper, it should have been an easier matchup for the Sabres. The Islanders, after all, played the night before in Brooklyn. The 5-4 loss to Chicago was the third straight for the Islanders, who trail the Sabres in the Eastern Conference standings.

Plus, the Islanders were starting their third-string goalie, Jean-Francois Berube, who had entered the game with just six minutes of playing time this season.

But New York had all the jump in the first period, outshooting the Sabres, 7-1, early on and grabbing a 1-0 lead. By the grace of goaltender Robin Lehner it wasn't a larger deficit.

"I just don’t think we were very good in the first period," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "They played last night, we expected that to be their best period, their biggest period, their biggest push and it was. We just didn’t handle it very well. I think Robin kept us in it and we were fortunate to keep it at 1-0. He made five or six really good saves in the first period and kept us in the game."

The first period was bad for the second straight game. In Tuesday's 6-3 win over the L.A. Kings, the Sabres also fumbled around the opening 20 minutes, falling behind 2-0 before rattling off four second-period goals.

The lackluster opening continued on Friday.

"It was just a little too much thinking and maybe we underestimated them," Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "We need to come out with that killer instinct and be ready to play a good team. They have a lot of good players. They can create. They put us back on our heels and it wasn’t until we got out of that that we started playing hockey and started taking the game over."

This is where the Sabres may be starting to develop resiliency. There was no shoulder slumping. No woe-is-me body language. Instead, O'Reilly got angry and took his game to another level. His teammates followed, slowly finding ways to get back in the game until they dominated the third period and took charge in overtime.

The first period was unacceptable, so they corrected their play and got to overtime. But being content with earning the point for just getting to overtime would be equally unacceptable.

"I think these games now are defining us," O'Reilly said. "We could roll over and be a mediocre team but we’re fighting to get back in this. It’s not easy right now. We have to be more consistent but we found a way to win a game tonight, and that’s huge, against a team that’s behind us. Getting to OT there, getting a point and not being satisfied and getting the second one. That’s what we want to do. We want to be a legit team and it starts each game finding a way to win."

If a playoff push is going to happen, and the road is already difficult, then the Sabres need more than just the odd grab at points. They need long winning streaks. And desperation caused by looking at the standings may be providing some assistance.

"We’re fighting for our lives right now," O'Reilly said. "This league is so tough. When we get behind," in the standings "and we think that we’re going to make it up and the end, that’s not going to happen. We have to make our push now, to chip away. We have to define ourselves right now."

Defining themselves has been a process, one that's been slow to develop. But with the last two come-from-behind wins, there's a growing confidence in the Sabres dressing room.

"I think it speaks to how confident we are as a group in here," said forward Matt Moulson, who scored his seventh power play goal of the season to tie the game, 2-2, early in the third period. "We’re down goals in games and got back to how we wanted to play. ... We’re learning ways to win. Each year you learn different things about your team. I think it’s something that we’re building on."

"It says we’re hard working," added Ristolainen, whose two goals this year have been overtime winners. "We never give up and we are having fun with each other. We trust each other and we know the way we play, like the last two games late in the game, that’s the way we’re going to get wins."

email: amoritz@buffnews.com

 

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