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Kane’s speed, physical style come together for Sabres

Evander Kane checked his phone following Tuesday’s two-goal game. There was a message from his father.

“My dad texted me and was like, ‘You’re finally starting to look like yourself,’ ” Kane said. “He’s probably right.”

While Kane’s father has unmatched knowledge of Evander’s game, it doesn’t take a family member to see that the Sabres’ top left winger is playing really well. Kane has three goals and five points in the last four games, with multiple points in the last two, but numbers tell only part of the story.

Kane’s relentless forecheck in Nashville allowed him to set up Ryan O’Reilly for an empty-net goal. His physicality got under the skin of Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg, leading to a successful power play that got the Sabres back in the game. Kane’s speed forced the Red Wings into an overtime penalty that gave Buffalo a chance to win it.

“When he’s playing at the top of his game, he plays with a lot of speed,” longtime teammate Zach Bogosian said. “He showed that. He was a key factor in the game, obviously scoring the goals, but it’s good to see him get in there physically and all that kind of stuff.

“We need him to be that player in order for us to have success. He’s a key part of the team, and it’s good to see him playing well.”

Kane’s next chore is to keep it up. He was unable to get into an early season rhythm while coming back from an eight-month layoff, then missed 10 games with a knee sprain. He’s clearly healthy now and playing like the Sabres envisioned when they swung February’s blockbuster trade.

“Hopefully, I can carry that momentum,” the 24-year-old said. “I felt good these last couple games, and obviously that’s going to have to continue.”

Kane seems to have found a comfort zone with O’Reilly as his center and Sam Reinhart on the right wing. Kane had two assists Saturday in Nashville, then followed it with Tuesday’s two-goal performance in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Red Wings. He totaled nine shots in the two games and attempted 18. Several came off passes from O’Reilly.

“He’s a guy that has some good vision on the ice and can pass the puck really well on his backhand,” Kane said. “On the rush that can really help as a left winger. I’m on his backhand side. He’s able to make those plays.

“He has a good stick, creates turnovers and for me that works well because I can get open and he can get me the puck.”

Once Kane got the puck Tuesday, he was dangerous. He went end-to-end on the overtime play. He ripped a shot past Detroit goaltender Petr Mrazek’s glove during an odd-man rush.

Kane nearly recorded a hat trick to win the game in the overtime. He sent another blast past Mrazek, then started to remove his mouthpiece to unleash a loud celebration. The only noise came when the puck hammered the post.

“I thought it was in,” he said.

Kane skated 24:38 against the Wings, third in the game behind Rasmus Ristolainen (27:55) and O’Reilly (26:14). He also spent four minutes in the penalty box, two for roughing after he dropped the gloves to challenge Zetterberg and drawing Detroit’s Brendan Smith into the fray.

Kane and the Sabres took Wednesday off to rest, but they’ll return to the ice Thursday to prep for Friday’s home game against Arizona. The game will give Kane a chance to show the fans in First Niagara Center what the folks in Nashville and Detroit saw.

“He’s a guy that can put a lot of heat and a lot of pressure on the other team’s defense,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “He’s a big strong body, skates fast. When he gets open with a shot, he’s dangerous.”


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