Sabres' winning streak starts at the top - The Buffalo News

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Sabres' winning streak starts at the top

Ryan O’Reilly regularly puts the onus on himself. He says it’s up to him to lead the Sabres to victory.

He’s partially right.

Buffalo’s highest-paid player and No. 1 center certainly needs to carry the load. He’s not the only one. The Sabres also have Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen and Robin Lehner at the top of the leadership group.

“Those are the guys that have to get it done for us,” coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday.

During a 3-2 victory over St. Louis, those six players combined for two goals, six points and 37 saves. It’s no coincidence Buffalo won its third straight game and fourth of the last five.

“That’s what we want,” O’Reilly said in KeyBank Center. “We have to contribute every game and find a way to do things, generate momentum. We did.”

The Sabres have inched back into playoff contention with a team effort. In order to continue the climb, their best players need to be the best players. Well …

*Kane recorded a goal and assist, becoming Buffalo’s first 20-goal scorer in the process.

“I’m not interested in the 20-goal mark, to be honest,” he said. “I’d like to go past that.”

There’s no reason to think he’ll stop. All 20 goals have come in the last 35 games. Since Kane started his run Dec. 3, only Montreal’s Max Pacorietty (23) has scored more. No one has more even-strength goals than Kane (19).

“The even-strength goals says it all,” Bylsma said. “It’s hard to score in this league. It’s hard to get even-strength goals in this league, and he’s leading the league since Dec. 1 in doing so. It hasn’t been just him and his shot and coming down the wing. He’s done it a lot of different ways and a lot of tough ways.”

Kane, who tipped home a shot from the blue line, has 14 points in the last 13 games.

*O’Reilly scored the game-winning goal, giving the Sabres’ a 3-1 lead in the final minute of the second period. He has 20 points in the last 22 games.

*Eichel assisted on Nicholas Baptiste’s goal as the Sabres tied the game, 1-1. The center has 17 points in the last 17 games. Eichel had a game-high eight shots.

*Lehner stopped 37 of 39 shots while saving his best for the end. He made 16 saves during the third period, allowing only a short-handed breakaway goal.

Lehner has stopped 99 of 103 shots during the three-game winning streak.

*Ristolainen earned his 100th career point with an assist on O’Reilly’s goal. The defenseman has a point in seven of the last nine games.

*Okposo picked up an assist, giving him eight points in the last nine games.

“We’ve got to step up,” Eichel said. “We’re going to be the go-to guys on this team. We’ve got to step up and make plays, come up big when the team needs you.

“The good thing is we've had a lot of good contributions from a lot of guys on this team, and that’s why we’re winning games against good hockey teams.”

They get one more chance Sunday evening. The Chicago Blackhawks will visit KeyBank Center. After the game, Buffalo will have a five-day bye. Other teams will close the gap in games in hand while the Sabres are off, so two more points will let them rest a bit easier.

“I know where we are,” Okposo said, referring to the jumbled standings. “We’ve kind of got by that bottom tier. Now we’re in that next tier. We’re kind of in the middle.

“We need to catch that next tier. What it’s going to take to do that is string four, five, six, seven games together. That’s what we need, and hopefully we’re on our way.”

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