ANAHEIM -- The shootout was stretching into extra rounds and extra rounds above that. Deep into the California night and at nearly 1 a.m. back home in Buffalo, there had been 19 shooters and four goals but still no decision. Zemgus Girgensons admitted he had one thought on the Sabres' bench.
"I was just hoping we'd score and get to go home," joked Girgensons.
The long red-eye flight couldn't happen until the Latvian got his first chance of the season by becoming shooter No. 20. In the 10th round. He skated in on Anaheim's Jonathan Bernier and froze the Ducks' goalie with a shot fake. It allowed him to pull the puck to his forehand and slam it past Berner to give Buffalo a 2-1 win Friday over the Ducks in Honda Center.
The Sabres outscored the Ducks, 3-2, in what was the longest shootout win in their history. They lost an 11-rounder to Colorado in 2010.
The Sabres were pretty deliberate through overtime against the vaunted Anaheim attack, drawing boos from the crowd at a couple points. The Ducks are super talented but were somehow only 2-8 in OT this season. Still, the Sabres seemed content to be patient and then go for quick bursts from Jack Eichel an others.
There were no goals scored and, in case you've been under a rock the last few months, that didn't bode well because the Sabres have been terrible at shootouts with a 1-6 record. The numbers within those seven games are even uglier and the output the Sabres got Friday was in stark contrast to previous forays.
Buffalo shooters entered the game just 3 for 17 but the Sabres went 3 for 10 in this one. The goalies had made just four saves on 16 opponent shots but Anders Nilsson took care of 8 of 10 Anaheim attempts this time.
Nilsson got the Sabres off on the right foot by stopping Jakob Silfverberg's shot in round one and that had to put a charge through the Buffalo bench.
"The feeling of getting a save in a shootout was big," coach Dan Bylsma admitted.
So was the feeling of getting a goal. After Ryan Getzlaf scored in the second round to put the Ducks up, Ryan O'Reilly got the Sabres even with a nifty wrist shot. He had missed his previous two attempts this season.
"I just wanted to come in with speed, make a quick little shoulder fake and get it up," O'Reilly said. "It's about time I scored."
Said Bylsma: "We really needed to see that puck go in the net."
Nilsson stopped the next six shots, giving the Sabres a chance to win each time. But Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta and Evan Rodrigues all missed. When Anaheim defenseman Brandon Montour blasted a shot by Nilsson in round nine, the Sabres looked cooked.
Enter Rasmus Ristolainen's first career shootout attempt in round nine. The Buffalo defenseman drew Bernier to the goalie's left, then deftly reached around with his left hand to tuck the puck past the goalie on the backhand as he was skating by the net. Nilsson said he knew Ristolainen might try the move after the big Finn scored on him with it a couple times in practice.
"I defintely knew he could do that," Girgensons said. "Didn't see it coming in the game though. Pretty impressive."
"To get the goalie to move like that and reach around him, I wasn't expecting it but it was an unreal move,' O'Reilly said.
After Nick Ritchie shot high in round 10, Girgensons put away his fourth shootout-deciding goal. Girgensons, on a run of 18 scoreless games dating to Jan. 24 in Nashville, said he knew he could get Bernier down and out of the play with his move.
"It took a little patience and I made sure," he said.
The biggest story of the game was 39 saves from Nilsson, in a bounceback effort after being pulled at the end of the first period last Saturday against Columbus with his team in a 3-0 hole.
"He was real strong, real solid and tested with big saves," Bylsma said. "That's where he's been much of the year for us. After the last game he needed to get back to it and it was a big performance."
"I felt good from puck drop, felt good the whole game," Nilsson said. "My job is to stop the puck no matter what else is happening in front of you. I was taking one shooter at a time and I was just happy we got the last goal."
Still, you can't let the giddiness of the shootout overshadow some of the truths about the 1-2 road trip. The Buffalo offense scored just two goals in the three games and O'Reilly's tying goal at 15:35 of the second period Friday was a fluke off his right skate after Bernier let a Jake McCabe shot through his glove.
But Eichel had five shots on goal and easily had his best game on the road trip. Same for Kane, who had four shots on goal and was robbed by Bernier in the slot in the third period. Still, no goals.
Bylsma took a blender to his forward lines, notably putting O'Reilly on the wing with Eichel and Tyler Ennis. He may take a similar look Monday in Detroit.
"I thought we probably still didn't get enough offensive output and chances from our group," Bylsma said. "But Evander was real dangerous. We just slugged one out tonight. It was a hard-fought game."