The Sabres have spent much of the year wandering aimlessly in search of an identity. They may have found it.
“I just like the fact they’re not going to have quit in them,” Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said. “They’re not going to stop trying, and they’re not going to stop believing that they can come back.”
The Sabres have grown into a team that knows it can rally. In the 17 games since Dec. 1, Buffalo has erased two-goal or third-period deficits six times. They earned victories after trailing by two against Winnipeg and Los Angeles, and got a point after being down by two to Florida. They erased third-period deficits to beat the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders.
The 4-3 victory over Winnipeg on Saturday actually falls into both categories because Buffalo started the third period in a 3-1 hole.
“It’s nice that we’ve been able to have that this year that we’re not out of the game,” captain Brian Gionta said. “We continue to push and are able to come from behind.”
Buffalo has four wins this season when trailing after two periods. Only Pittsburgh (seven), Vancouver, Montreal and New Jersey (five each) have more.
The Sabres took over Saturday’s game, scoring three third-period goals in less than five minutes while outshooting the Jets, 16-5, in the final period.
“We knew we score one we’re going to get them on their heels,” goaltender Robin Lehner said.
There is, of course, one major drawback to being known as a team that can rally. It means the team also falls behind.
Midway through Saturday’s victory, the Jets were outshooting the Sabres, 26-10, and leading, 3-1. Winnipeg took the opening five shots of the game and the first 11 of the second period.
“We’ve got to do a better job from the start of games, start of periods of making sure we’re ready,” Gionta said. “We’ve got to come out a little more desperate, a little more looking to play our game right off the bat, not waiting for things to happen.
“You can’t continue to rely on” comebacks, “can’t continue to think you’re going to do that night in, night out, coming from behind like that. It’s on us to be better at the start, and that’s something we need to improve on.”
Four of the players who were part of the blockbuster trade between Buffalo and Winnipeg were on the ice Saturday. For one day, the Jets got the better of the deal. Overall, it’s close – but Winnipeg has a couple of factors in its favor.
The Jets’ Drew Stafford and Joel Armia combined for two goals and seven shots Saturday. The Sabres’ Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian totaled no points and two shots.
Here are the numbers for the eight guys involved in the February 2015 trade, starting with the Sabres’ three players:
*Kane – 93 games, 29 goals, 49 points.
*Bogosian – 104 games, seven goals, 33 points, minus-27 rating.
*Jason Kasdorf – Goaltender is 2-5 with an .870 save percentage and 4.30 goals-against average this season with Elmira of the ECHL.
*Tyler Myers – 108 games, 14 goals, 47 points, plus-20 rating.
*Stafford – 131 games, 33 goals, 64 points.
*Armia – 60 games, six goals, 15 points.
*Brendan Lemieux – Forward has played 36 games for Manitoba in the American Hockey League, recording seven goals and 12 points. He leads the Moose with 78 penalty minutes this season.
*Jack Roslovic – Winnipeg used the No. 25 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft on the forward. The 19-year-old leads the Moose with eight goals and 19 points in 25 games and will play in the AHL All-Star Game. He skated for the gold medal-winning Americans in the world junior championships and contributed two assists.
It’s still too early to deem a winner or loser in the blockbuster. Kane has outplayed Stafford and Armia. Myers has outplayed Bogosian. It doesn’t look like Kasdorf will be an NHL-caliber netminder. If Roslovic and Lemieux continue to blossom, the Jets can earn the nod.
The Sabres took Sunday off and will return to practice Monday. They host Philadelphia on Tuesday before visiting Tampa Bay on Thursday and Carolina on Friday.
Not surprisingly, Patrik Laine did not practice with the Jets on Sunday. Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice confirmed what was obvious after Jake McCabe lambasted the rookie: Laine has a concussion.
“There’s no timeline,” Maurice told reporters. “He will start the stages of recovery with that. We’ll wait until the symptoms subside, and then you start increasing workload and getting back on the ice.
“He’s not feeling 100 percent. He’s not feeling fresh, but he’s walking around looking good.”
Laine wobbled to the dressing room with help after staying on the ice for several minutes following McCabe’s hit.
“I feel bad for the kid,” Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons said, “but that’s hockey. That was probably one of the best hits I’ve seen.”