BROOKLYN – When Linus Ullmark arrived in North America last fall, he wasn’t sure he’d get any NHL games. He was still recovering from hip surgery and Robin Lehner was scheduled to be the Sabres’ workhorse in net.
Fast-forward to Saturday, and Ullmark is going to close Buffalo’s season with his 20th appearance.
The Sabres have summoned Ullmark from Rochester because of a minor injury to Chad Johnson, and the Swedish rookie will start against the New York Islanders in Barclays Center.
“I’m excited to be here and get a chance,” said Ullmark, who hasn’t had a chance to reflect on his whirlwind year but know it’s special. “Great, actually. It’s been a terrific learning experience from Day One to hopefully the last day here of the season. To have the opportunity to play in the National Hockey League and also have the opportunity to play a lot of games in the AHL, I tried to develop my game to the North American style and all that stuff. The learning process has been really fun.”
Ullmark is 7-10-2 with a .915 save percentage for the Sabres. He’s 10-14 with the Amerks with a .902 but has lost six straight.
“It’s been ups and downs,” he said. “If you look at it statistically, it hasn’t been really good. Still, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction. Kept battling every game and thought I haven’t been that low. If you start thinking too much about the games when you’re playing bad, it’s easy to go way downhill.
“You can’t take anything for granted. It’s so easy to be a bad team, to be a good team because it’s just a game of inches. You can have a great game but you can’t score, and then they score three goals. You can have a bad game, you score four goals and you win. It’s really different. It gets you motivated all day long and every night to go out there and battle to your best.”
Defenseman Zach Bogosian and center Johan Larsson didn’t take the trip to New York because of minor injuries. Forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Casey Nelson will take their spots. The college signees will dress for the seventh time each after sitting Friday.
“It’s been a great experience for both Casey and Hudson to be able to come in and not only play and play a game but play a number of games,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s been a great experience for us to get to see them play, see what they could do and see them get adjusted to the pro game. I think it’s going to be a huge advantage for them going into next season having had the experience, having had the games and the pro experience. It’s a big jump-start for where they’re at in their career.”
The Sabres are hoping to finish the season at 80 points or more. They’ll enter the game with 79. The Islanders hold the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference but can pass the New York Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.
“I want to go out on a good note,” Bylsma said. “I know I want to win this game, and I know the players do as well.”