Coach Dan Bylsma described Linus Ullmark as a calm and collected goaltender. He was. That is until the final horn sounded.
Ullmark lifted both arms in the air followed by emphatic fist pumps as his teammates came to congratulate him.
At 22 years old he became the youngest goaltender to earn a win for the Buffalo Sabres since 21-year-old Mika Noronen won against Chicago in 2000.
“Pure happiness,” Ullmark said.
In his second career start Ullmark made 27 saves to earn his first NHL win, a 3-1 decision against the Philadelphia Flyers in First Niagara Center on Friday night. It was his fifth game in North America and the native of Sweden is adjusting to the game on a smaller rink with more physical play in front of the net and pucks that find a way to the crease from the boards.
“He’s played pro hockey in Sweden but it’s been on the big ice,” Bylsma said. “It’s a bit different of a game. … He’s a calm demeanor guy and I think the first game it didn’t look in place, but tonight more calm and collected and real confident.”
Ullmark lost his NHL opener, 4-3, to the New Jersey Devils and while he felt he was able to react quicker in Friday night’s win, he also credited the defense in front of him.
“The thing that I lacked the last game when we lost was my speed and I felt that I battled through it a lot more this time and I kept going and … kept seeing the pucks all the time just battling through the whole game,” Ullmark said.
“The guys were awesome in front of me, blocking shots the whole game, kept the rebounds away from me and helped me out a lot.”
It was a relatively low workload. Through the first two periods, Ullmark faced just 14 shots, but it didn’t keep him from being dialed in to the game.
“That’s how it is,” Ullmark said. “That’s great because that means we were dominating them and playing really good. The boys were playing good the whole game, battling through and helping me out.”
And when he needed to, Ullmark came up with timely saves. Like at the end of the second period when Flyers forward Claude Giroux found Wayne Simmonds for a prime scoring chance.
“I just tried to get over in the shooting lane as fast as possible and it worked out,” Ullmark said.
He made 13 saves in the third period as the Flyers threw pressure on the Sabres. Philadelphia broke through for a goal when Mark Streit placed a puck across Ullmark’s shoulder with 3:36 left in the game.
“You always want to be perfect out there but it’s nothing to say about it,” Ullmark said. “They make a good play and they bury it and that’s just how it is. You just have to look forward and not think about it too much.”
Former Sabre Michal Neuvirth didn’t enjoy the same night in the Flyers’ net. He faced 36 shots letting in three goals, one of them on one of five Buffalo power plays. He was burned by Jack Eichel with 36 seconds left in the first period after making what he felt was a good start.
“They came out hard,” Neuvirth said. “I made a few early saves and I felt good. … We gotta stay out of the penalty box. We spent way too much time killing penalties and obviously the first goal with 30 seconds left on the road, we gotta make sure we just shut it down.”
As for how the Sabres look this year, Neuvirth said, “For sure they’re different. They’re playing much better than last year but last year’s last year. It doesn’t matter.”
Remember the kid in Pittsburgh Thursday night who had a puck flipped to him by Sabres coach Dan Bylsma only to have it snagged by an adult who pocketed the souvenir for himself?
Friday we learned more about him.
Trey Dopson is a third grader who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I Just can’t process it through my head what happened.”
Dopson ended up getting a Sidney Crosby jersey and a puck from the Penguins along with two Sabres pucks after the incident was replayed on the broadcast and social media blew up.
His father, David, said he was most impressed with the way Trey handled the initial disappointment.
“That’s what I was really impressed by and proud of,” David told the Post-Gazette. “He had no animosity or anger toward the man” who took the puck.