Every time the Sabres play at home, they honor a kid attending his first NHL game. The team puts the child on the scoreboard and hands over a cupcake to commemorate the occasion.
Desserts are great, but Ryan O’Reilly would rather deliver victories and good times. The sugar rush doesn’t wear off for those.
“It’s something that’s important, too, just for growing the game, having the city kind of rally behind that,” O’Reilly said Tuesday after a 4-1 victory over Philadelphia. “If we can put on a good show every night and show that we’re a good team and be fun to watch, that grows the game and makes it more special, then the life comes in the building.
“Kids are watching, and they want to see a good show and a hard-working team. That’s what I want to bring here.”
He and the Sabres are finally taking strides toward making Buffalo a fun place to watch a game.
There’s been an obvious disconnect the last few years. Losses and uninspired play created quiet nights, and quiet nights contributed to boring losses. The fans in KeyBank Center have been loud the last two games. Without prompting, Sam Reinhart brought it up.
“Going into the second period, there was a turning point somewhere in there, and I think it was the crowd kind of getting us back into it,” the forward said. “After that, it was a different game.”
The Sabres rolled past the Flyers by scoring three times in the second period, opening a 3-0 lead. The fans joined in the ride, just as they did Saturday when Buffalo scored three times in the third period to beat Winnipeg, 4-3.
“When you can score goals and get life in this building, that’s tough to play against,” O’Reilly said. “That’s what we want. We want to create, get goals and keep feeding off them like we did there. It’s definitely a positive thing.”
O’Reilly is doing his part to change the atmosphere. He had two assists and a plus-3 rating Tuesday, continuing a hot streak at the foot of Jim Kelley Way. The center has two goals, six assists and eight points in his last seven home games.
“I do need to play a lot better here, and as of late I’m starting to create more,” O’Reilly said.
The two-assist showing gave O’Reilly three straight multipoint games. He had two assists Thursday in Chicago, and he recorded a goal and assist Saturday.
Originally, he wasn’t supposed to play in any of them. He had an appendectomy during the Christmas break, but he stunned the team by missing only eight days instead of several weeks.
The return has helped Buffalo go 3-0-1 in its last four, just the second time this season the team has recorded points in four straight games.
“It was definitely nice to get back to the team quicker and be part of this because it’s two good wins for us, and we’ve got to keep going,” O’Reilly said. “We should have won in Chicago, and we could be looking at four straight wins right now. It’s frustrating, but this is what we need to do. We need to start building on it. We’ve got to put some together and climb into this race somehow.”
The hot streak has given the Sabres life. They are five points behind Ottawa for third place in the Atlantic Division. They climbed within seven points of Philadelphia for the final playoff spot with three fewer games played.
They did it with a rare easy win, no comebacks or nail-biting needed.
“That was a much more consistent effort,” O’Reilly said. “We were creating right away, and we were just competing right away. That’s what we’ve got to do more often.
“We weren’t as focused on kind of the X’s and O’s and what they’re going to do. We just kind of said, ‘Let’s go out and play hockey.’ That’s what did right away, and we built off it.”
The next two games are on the road, Thursday in Tampa Bay and Friday in Carolina. Buffalo follows that with a 1 p.m. matinee Monday against Dallas. Some lucky kid will get a cupcake. It’ll be up to the Sabres to bring treats for everyone.
“The fans deserve that,” O’Reilly said. “They deserve a team that’s going to compete every night, come out and make this a tough place to play. When we can do it like we did tonight and have a more consistent game, it’s better for everyone.”