The Sabres saved everything for the third period. Everything.
Buffalo scored three times, delivered one of the biggest of the NHL season and energized the crowd with a dominant 20 minutes Saturday afternoon. The late surge delivered a 4-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in KeyBank Center.
After two lackluster periods, the Sabres woke up with a vengeance in the third. They erased a 3-1 deficit to improve to 2-0-1 in their last three games.
The Jets' problems may be bigger than the loss. Buffalo defenseman Jake McCabe lambasted rookie Patrik Laine with an open-ice hit early in the third. The Rookie of the Year candidate stayed flat on the ice for several minutes and needed help while wobbling toward the dressing room.
Patrik Laine just got destroyed by Jake McCabe pic.twitter.com/Lcy5ITO2Em
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) January 7, 2017
Comeback starts: Defenseman Cody Franson waited for the Jets to start a line change, then fed Marcus Foligno for a breakaway. The winger's deke put Connor Hellebuyck down, and Foligno slipped the puck between the goaltender's skate and the post. It trickled across the goal line by an inch or two with 5:12 off the clock in the third, pulling Buffalo within 3-2.
Comeback continues: Matt Moulson fed Zemgus Girgensons crossing in front, and the Buffalo left winger got Hellebuyck to the ice before sending home a backhand. The tying goal came just 26 seconds after Foligno scored.
Comeback complete: Brian Gionta gave the Sabres their first lead of the game, 4-3, with 10:06 remaining. The captain waited (and waited) for Hellebuyck to go down before ending a 10-game scoring slump.
Revving the Jets: Winnipeg opened with the first five shots and took a 1-0 lead in the process. The scoring play started with a Sabres highlight as Girgensons flattened Mark Scheifele, but not before the Jets defenseman pushed the puck to center ice.
Laine beat McCabe to the loose puck and went around the defenseman for a two-on-one. Nikolaj Ehlers sent Laine’s feed past a sprawling Robin Lehner with 4:48 off the clock.
Final-minute connection: The Sabres, who were in a 14-6 shot hole at one point, rallied late in the opening period to tie the game. Ryan O’Reilly took Sam Reinhart’s cross-ice pass, faked a feed of his own and shot between the legs of Hellebuyck with 23.4 seconds left.
Winnipeg finished the first period with a 15-10 shot advantage.
Not good: The second period was forgettable for Buffalo. Winnipeg fired 11 pucks at Lehner and scored twice before the Sabres even took a shot. Three straight penalties by the Jets in the final 6:18 allowed the Sabres to finish the period with just a 15-10 shot deficit, but they exited the ice to boos while in a 3-1 hole.
Stafford alone: Former Sabres right wing Drew Stafford entered with just one goal in his last 17 games. He ended the slump on the power play to give Winnipeg a 2-1 lead. Stafford easily found space between Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe on a drive to the net. Stafford took three whacks at a goal before connecting with 2:30 off the clock.
The goal was just the third of the year for Stafford, who has played 27 games.
Armia alone: Former Sabres right wing Joel Armia entered with just one goal in 16 games this season. He, too, ended his slump to give the Jets a 3-1 lead. Adam Lowry took a shot from the left boards, and Armia cruised unobstructed through the slot to easily bury the rebound with 7:51 off the clock.
Power outage: The power play has been the Sabres’ First Star this season, but it failed Saturday. Buffalo couldn’t capitalize on the Jets’ parade to the penalty box late in the second, allowing Winnipeg to hold on to its two-goal lead.
Buffalo had six shots with the man-advantage, and Jack Eichel hit a post.
Late scratch: Defenseman Josh Gorges took part in the Sabres’ warmup, skating alongside Zach Bogosian, but he didn’t come out for the game.
The Sabres’ makeshift defense featured McCabe with Ristolainen, Bogosian with Franson, and Justin Falk alongside Taylor Fedun. Coach Dan Bylsma said during his pregame news conference that Fedun was going to sit.
Still out: Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (back) missed his fifth straight game because of injury. Left wing William Carrier sat for the second game in a row because of illness.
Winnipeg defenseman Tyler Myers missed his 26th straight game with a lower-body injury. The ex-Buffalo blue-liner has two goals and five points in 11 games this season.
Linesman milestone: In a pregame ceremony, the Sabres, Jets and NHL honored linesman David Brisebois for working his 1,000th game. Buffalo captain Brian Gionta and Winnipeg captain Blake Wheeler each presented Brisebois with a signed stick.
Counting the house: The Sabres announced a sellout of 19,070 tickets sold.
Next: The Sabres have a few days until their next game, so they’re expected to take Sunday off. They’ll return to practice Monday to prepare for Tuesday’s visit by the Philadelphia Flyers. Buffalo will hit the road later in the week for games in Tampa Bay on Thursday and Carolina on Friday.