When he tees up a slap shot, one thought runs through Rasmus Ristolainen’s mind.
“I try to shoot it through the boards with all my power,” he said Tuesday night.
There’s a chance his overtime rocket would have put a hole in the back boards. It might have shattered the glass. He’ll never know.
Ristolainen’s one-timer rung the post and ricocheted home with 57 seconds gone in overtime, giving the Buffalo defenseman his first goal of the season and delivering a 4-3 win over Edmonton.
“It was maybe the loudest one I’ve heard off the post and in,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said in KeyBank Center.
Along with the clang of iron and the roar of the fans, Ristolainen’s excited shout and sigh of relief were audible. He had skated for 694 minutes, 7 seconds without scoring. That’s more than 11 days of ice time. Only three players in the NHL (Dustin Byfuglien, Erik Karlsson and Duncan Keith) have skated more.
Finally, with 694:08 under Ristolainen’s skates, he found the net.
“It was about time,” Ristolainen said. “There’s been some really good chances, but you can’t get frustrated. Just try to keep it simple, get pucks to the net, and some day it’s going to go in. Tonight was the time.”
Really, it was just a matter of time. Ristolainen has been a minute-hogging machine for Buffalo’s depleted blue line. He’s topped 29 minutes six times in the past 10 games. He skated 29:51 Monday in Washington and followed it up 29:58 against the Oilers.
In the 123:35 of game time in two days, Ristolainen totaled 59:49.
“He’s carrying the load for us back there with continued injuries,” Bylsma said. “How much he’s playing is truly significant. He’s had some long shifts. He’s had some tough shifts. He’s had some tough battles.
“He got a lot lighter when he scored that goal.”
Ristolainen, who has taken 63 shots, upped his shooting percentage to 1.6 percent. While that number is small, his impact is not. He added two assists Tuesday, bringing his total to 15 in 26 games. As he untied his skates at his locker stall, he ranked fourth among defenseman in helpers and 16th in the NHL.
But the goal is what mattered.
“He’s done a lot of good things,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “He’s one of those guys that’s had the snakebite the worst. He’s hit a lot of posts. He’s put a lot of pucks in good areas. It’s been that way for a lot of us, but he’s fought that luck a little bit, so it’s great to see him get one.”
With one down, Ristolainen is ready for a streak. He’ll go for two in a row Friday when Washington visits.
“Friday I’ll try to keep shooting and getting pucks to the net, and hopefully it goes in again,” Ristolainen said. “You need to be in good shape, and I feel great right now. I could go again tomorrow night.”
The defenseman got his overtime chance after a stunning rally by the Sabres. Edmonton outshot the home team, 32-14, during the final two periods, but Buffalo’s Evander Kane scored with 28.3 seconds left to tie it.
Kane scored twice but was in the penalty box when Edmonton took a 3-2 lead with 10 minutes left.
“We’ve got to keep winning,” he said. “Obviously, it was good to get back to .500” at 10-10-6. “We have three more games left in this homestand, and we’ve got to try to make the most of it.”