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Ristolainen's flair for the dramatic comes one game early

NEWARK, N.J. – No one had to tell Rasmus Ristolainen he was stuck on zero goals. The Buffalo Sabres defenseman knew it all too well.

He also knew it presented an opportunity. The Sabres take center stage Monday at the Winter Classic, and the hockey world will be watching. Ristolainen figured he would step outside and get rid of his doughnut in dramatic fashion.

He certainly scored his first goal in dramatic fashion. It just came a few days early.

Ristolainen finished an electric overtime against the New Jersey Devils, scoring with 2:23 left to give the Sabres a 4-3 victory Friday.

"I was planning the first one to happen Monday afternoon," Ristolainen said, "but I'll take it one game earlier."

So will the Sabres. They were in a 3-1 hole to the best team in the Metropolitan Division, yet they stunned the Devils and their frenzied Prudential Center crowd.

"Credit to us for sticking to our game plan and just finding a way to win," center Jack Eichel said after Buffalo improved to 2-8 in overtimes. "It's nice to be on the other end of it."

Ristolainen ended his 30-game scoring drought by outbattling the Devils in the corner and skating in alone on goaltender Cory Schneider. The defenseman, who won the World Junior Championship for Finland with an overtime winner in 2014, clearly likes having the puck on his stick at the end.

"Every time we're in overtime, I enjoy it," Ristolainen said. "You have a chance to win the game, and I got the bounce there in the corner and took the puck to the net."

The Wraparound: Sabres 4, Devils 3 (OT)

The teams repeatedly took the puck to the net in one of the wildest overtimes for Buffalo since the NHL instituted three-on-three in 2015. The Sabres' Marco Scandella, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart had great chances, as did the Devils' Nico Hischier.

"I'm just really proud of our guys the way they battled," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "That's a really good hockey team over there. There's a reason why they're No. 1 in the Metropolitan Division, but I like the way we've been playing the last couple of games. When we keep pucks moving north and get on the forecheck, we're a tough team to play against. We finally got rewarded in overtime."

The Sabres got to overtime on a pair of goals by Eichel and by winning a replay challenge.

New Jersey limited the Sabres to just three shots during the second period, but Buffalo scored on two of them. Jacob Josefson made it 1-1 early, and Eichel's tip cut the Sabres' deficit to 3-2 with 1:55 left.

"We got lucky," Housley said of the .667 shooting percentage. "The third period I thought we just kept coming at them."

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Eichel scored his 15th of the year and his first on the power play with 8:56 to play, tying the game. Taylor Hall put the Devils in front just 1:17 later, but Housley and video coach Mat Myers issued a challenge for offsides.

It worked as the officials erased the goal from the scoreboard. The review came one game after replay officials in Toronto stopped play to award the New York Islanders a late goal that tied the game and propelled them to victory.

Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner lambasted the review crew after that game, and he took a jab again Friday.

"See what happens when the refs get to make the call and leave the Toronto guys out of it?" Lehner said. "We get fair results."

They got a winning result thanks to the overtime goal. Buffalo is just 10-20-8 this season, but this was a major boost heading into Monday's outdoor showdown with the New York Rangers.

"It's been a tough year, and we didn't just want to lose the game," Ristolainen said. "We need a win. We wanted to win, and I think just the will of everyone came out."

The atmosphere also gave the Sabres an inkling of what Monday will be like.

"It was a great crowd in here," Lehner said. "It was a sold-out building. It was buzzing. It was a fun game to play."

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