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Lehner snaps shootout slump but worries mount over Okposo

OTTAWA -- There are two simple takeaways from the proceedings Thursday night in Canadian Tire Centre.

You have to feel great for Robin Lehner. You have to feel terrible for Kyle Okposo.

The Buffalo Sabres eked out a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, twice tying the game in regulation and finally prevailing in a shootout as Jacob Josefson got the game-deciding goal -- to give Lehner his first shootout win in three years as a Sabre.

But the game was marred by an ugly and freak collision between Okposo and Senators forward Bobby Ryan that took place near center ice just 1:56 into the second period. Neither Okposo nor Ryan saw the other player coming and they skated directly into each other.

Both players hit the deck, with Okposo staying down and needing to be visited by trainers. Okposo skated slowly off the ice and headed into the Buffalo dressing room for the night.

"I didn't even see what happened. When I turned back, both of them were laying on the ground," said Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, who was on the ice at the time. "I didn't even know. I saw it on the Jumbotron that they just collided."

Coach Phil Housley called the play "freakish" and simply said Okposo had an upper body injury and would need more evaluation Friday. The Sabres announced Friday that Okposo has a concussion and is out indefinitely.

The hit was an obvious red-flag given the way Okposo's season ended last year.

Sabres Notebook: Housley dismayed at view from bottom of standings

Okposo missed the final six games with a concussion and then spent a few harrowing days in a neuro intensive care unit at Buffalo General Hospital after having a severe reaction to medication. Okposo, 29, signed a seven-year, $42-million contract with the Sabres in July 2016 and his career seemed in jeopardy until he returned to the ice for summer league games in Minnesota.

He proclaimed himself healthy for Sabres training camp and said he passed a big personal milestone when he absorbed a heavy hit with no ill effects from then-Pittsburgh tough guy Ryan Reaves in a game in December. Now, his status may be in question again.

"I hope everything is OK," Lehner said. "We'll just wait and see."

Sabres' Kyle Okposo hospitalized and in intensive care

Okposo missed much of a strong performance by the Sabres, who were far more engaged in this game than they were during Wednesday's 5-1 no-show against Calgary in KeyBank Center.

Lehner made 37 saves and goals by Marco Scandella, Sam Reinhart and Scott Wilson kept the Sabres even through overtime. The shootout, of course, has been a huge Lehner bugaboo and he had not had to deal with one this year since Buffalo lost on opening night, Oct. 5 against Montreal.

Lehner gave up a five-hole goal on Ottawa's first shot, by Matt Duchene, but then stopped Ryan and pokechecked Mike Hoffman. That set the stage for Josefson, a shootout specialist in his days with New Jersey, to beat Craig Anderson with a snapshot that gave Buffalo the victory.

It was Lehner's first shootout win in three years as a Sabre. He had been 0-7 and had allowed 13 goals on 16 shots. Lehner, who has an 8-16 record in his career, had not won a skills competition since beating Boston for the Senators on Dec. 13, 2014.

Lehner went 0-4 last year and allowed all eight shooters to score against him. He said he needed one to go his way to help him feel it was possible to win again and overcome the mental block he was dealing with.

"That's sometimes how it is," he said. "Like a goal scorer who hasn't scored in a while. When you get a first one, you get confidence back. It's nice and hopefully I can build on that for the future."

"It's huge," Housley said. "Here we are at Game 68 and it's our second shootout of the year. Robin played well and played strong coming back here. Especially in the shootout. He really made some key saves to set it up for Joey's winner. Good for him he played a solid game and had a really good shootout."

The Hoffman save saw Lehner reacted pre-emptively, sensing the Ottawa shooter was going to try a one-handed deke with one hand.

"He looked like he was going to do one of those (Peter) Forsberg moves on me, which is difficult," Lehner said. "So I saw him kind of go around like that, I just tried to poke. I think I hit the puck."

When Josefson's goal hit the net, the Sabres poured off the bench to Lehner. Ryan O'Reilly pointed at the goalie and several players had their arms in the air.

"That was nice for him to get that, real nice," Girgensons said. "Definitely a good feeling. It was big for him."

The Wraparound: Sabres 4, Senators 3 (SO)

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