There’s been a respectful silence by draft-hopeful Sabres fans on game nights this season. Though many talk about wanting Buffalo to lose during outside conversations, they haven’t voiced their opinion inside First Niagara Center.
That changed Friday night. It’s crazy to think how the Sabres’ next home game might go.
Tank Nation walked into the arena aware that a Buffalo victory would pull the home team within one point of 29th-place Arizona. Since only No. 30 gets a guaranteed shot at prospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, many fans loudly rooted for the New Jersey Devils.
The visitors repaid the support, earning a 3-1 victory to keep Buffalo three points behind the Coyotes with 11 games to go. The Sabres play in Nashville on Saturday night, while Arizona hosts Pittsburgh.
After visiting Dallas on Monday, the Sabres return home to face Arizona on Thursday. Based on Friday’s going-ons, the Coyotes might have home-ice advantage.
While there were certainly pockets of red-clad Devils fans in the generously announced sellout of 19,070, there weren’t enough to reach the decibel levels that came after New Jersey’s goals. There certainly weren’t enough to generate the amount of applause after a Buffalo goal was waved off by video review during the first period.
The dynamic at the Sabres’ six remaining home games should be interesting with the race for last coming down to the wire.
“It can be frustrating when you look at the standings,” Sabres right wing Tyler Ennis said, “so you try not to look at it.”
The Sabres’ Johan Larsson provided the NHL with definitive video of a “distinct kicking motion” during one of the few highlights. He lit the scoring lamp during a rush by Buffalo by booting the puck in the net. Officials went to the video review and quickly overturned the call.
A cheer went up from the crowd.
“Probably the turning point was when Larsson’s goal was disallowed,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “You get a lead on New Jersey, it’s a different game. But when you try to go from behind on them, they clog up the middle and it gets to be a pretty boring game.”
Devils forward Steve Bernier, who had one of the most memorable debuts in Buffalo history with a two-goal, three-point outing in 2008, did in his old team with a two-goal second period. The outburst gave him 100 career goals in his 598th game.
Although Buffalo gave up just 53 shot attempts compared with the 95 they allowed Tuesday against Boston, the results were worse. Anders Lindback made 24 saves in his eighth straight appearance and is expected to give way to Matt Hackett on Saturday.
“Obviously, if you look at the shots, it’s not as many, but I think the quality of chances we gave up were more than we’ve given up in the recent games,” defenseman Tyson Strachan said. “Lindy’s played great for us, but we can’t keep giving up two-on-ones and breakaways and expect to get out of games with wins.”
Jordin Tootoo made it 3-0 with 11:46 to go before Buffalo finally ended New Jersey’s bid for a second straight shutout. Matt Moulson cleaned up an Ennis slap shot with 8:19 to play, giving Buffalo a power-play goal for the third consecutive outing.
The Sabres made a surprise roster move a few hours before puck drop, summoning Mikhail Grigorenko from Rochester for the sixth time this season. To make room, Buffalo sent Tim Schaller back to the Amerks.
Schaller, who’d been centering the third and fourth lines, had one goal and one assist in 13 games. Grigorenko slid into Schaller’s spot between left wing Nicolas Deslauriers and right wing Cody Hodgson.
For the second straight game, it didn’t go well for Grigorenko. Nolan lambasted the center’s effort after a one-shot, minus-1 night March 6 in Ottawa. Grigorenko played a team-low 8:06 against the Devils, was on the ice for two goals against and didn’t record a shot.
“Right now guys are vying for jobs and seeing how they respond,” Nolan said. “He’s just got to be better.”