Ryan O’Reilly made it sound so simple and easy. He skated down the ice, got the puck instead of the other guy and luckily put it in the net.
Now let some other Sabres describe the play that tied the game and propelled Buffalo to a 3-2 overtime victory against Detroit:
- “Willed it,” coach Dan Bylsma said Friday night. “It was a big-time play from a guy wanting to be a leader on this team. He just willed that goal in, from along the boards to behind the net to bringing it out.
“That’s the best I can say: He willed that goal to the back of the net.”
- “Determination,” left wing Marcus Foligno said. “He pretty much threw the guy with one arm into the boards and muscled his way to the net. That was a heck of a play by him and a big individual effort there.
“He really wanted that, and we obviously needed someone to step up. He was the guy.”
- “He’s a game-breaking player,” linemate Kyle Okposo said. “It was kind of one those nights where nothing seemed to be going our way. The first couple periods we had some zone time, not a lot of possession. We just couldn’t really get much going. It was a frustrating game.
“He can do that, though. He can change the game like that with his smarts, with his skill, and you saw him do that. We’re down a goal and we need to win this game, and he came up with a big play.”
O’Reilly erased the Sabres’ 2-1 deficit with 4:09 left, preventing the Sabres from yet another costly loss inside the division. Defenseman Cody Franson sent the puck to O’Reilly at the Detroit blue line, and the center chipped it to the corner.
O’Reilly and Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser jockeyed for position while skating stride-for-stride. Once they got near the puck, O’Reilly took over. He put his left arm around the 6-foot-3, 192-pounder and shoved DeKeyser to the ice.
“I just kind of felt him lean on me, so I just tried to do what I can to push him and use his momentum against him,” O’Reilly said. “If you can do that, it’s tough for anyone.”
In control of the puck, O’Reilly circled behind the Detroit net, found plenty of open ice and sent a top-shelf backhand past goaltender Petr Mrazek. The goal was O’Reilly’s ninth of the season but just his third in 19 games.
O’Reilly then fed Okposo for the power-play winner with 26 seconds left in overtime, finishing with two points. He also went 21-7 on faceoffs while playing 22:53.
“I’ve got to be one of the key guys that has to be a leader on the stat sheet,” O’Reilly said. “In the room, I’ve got to be a voice. If we want to get back and get in the playoffs – which is possible – it’s going to be tough, and it’s got to start with myself first and go from there.”
The comeback victory was the Sabres’ fourth straight in KeyBank Center but just their second in five games overall. They moved to 5-9-3 against Atlantic Division rivals, and that poor record is the reason they are sitting at the bottom of the division and 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference.
The Sabres play another Atlantic team Saturday when they visit Montreal. They’ve said it often, but it bears repeating: They need to get on a run.
“It definitely gives us good momentum,” O’Reilly said. “At times we were frustrated. I myself was frustrated. To stick with it and keep doing things the right way and get the win, it shows it’s something we have to build on and continue to do.
“We’re not happy with the standings right now, and all we can do is take them one at a time.”