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Sabres bring the noise, bring home victory

Whenever the Sabres win, cheers and applause are audible in Buffalo’s dressing room. The players and coaches take a few minutes to celebrate before opening the door.

There are certain victories that feel – or sound – different. This was one of them.

“It has the feel of a turnaround game,” coach Dan Bylsma said Saturday after a 4-3 comeback victory over Winnipeg. “We left it all out there. We played hard in the third period and came all the way back to get the win. It feels like a big game for us.”

There’s no doubt. The roar from the room was louder than normal. The chants were more intense.

Now they need to keep it up.

“Consistency is the word for our team,” goaltender Robin Lehner said. “Going from periods like the first two to a period like the third is incredible.”

Incredible is one word. Another way to put it is season-altering. At least the Sabres hope so.

“It shows that we have the pieces in here,” Lehner said. “We’ve got to just decide if we want to play that for 60 minutes.”

So many things went right for the Sabres in the final 20 minutes that it’ll be a colossal failure if the team doesn’t build off it:

*After being totally outmatched for two periods, they scored three times to erase a 3-1 deficit in suddenly raucous KeyBank Center.

*Jake McCabe made highlight reels across the hockey world with a clean, open-ice hit that knocked out rookie sensation Patrik Laine.

*The Sabres fought together after the final buzzer, with the six guys on the ice (including Lehner) going fist-to-fist with the Jets in a 12-man battle royale.

“It was a good way to end it,” Sabres left wing Marcus Foligno said.

It’s the type of victory that can galvanize a team. The Sabres, who leapfrogged from 16th to 13th in the Eastern Conference, need to come together if they want to make an improbable push for the playoffs.

“We needed to pull our heads out and get playing the game,” Bylsma said. “We got momentum from the whole group of guys pushing and playing their guts out to come back in that game.”

Foligno started the rally, scoring with 5:12 gone in the third. Zemgus Girgensons followed up by tying the game, 3-3, just 28 seconds later.

After only 13 more ticks of the clock, McCabe caught Laine with his head down. The rookie didn’t get up for several minutes and wobbled to the dressing room.

“A big turning point in the game there,” Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. “It changes their focus. They start running around, trying to redeem that hit, and we were able to settle into our game and continued to push forward.”

Added Foligno: “It’s a good hit. It’s a star player, though. You have to have a reaction from any team. If not, it’s embarrassing. We know they’re going to answer with something. We did our best as a team.”

The Sabres’ biggest punch was scoring again. Gionta completed the comeback, finding the net with 10:06 to play. Lehner needed to make just five saves during the third period as Buffalo shut it down one game after allowing Chicago to rally.

“The guys were just going,” Girgensons said. “That’s how we have to play every period from the start. Teams can’t handle that if you play with such a high pace. You finish them, you put the pucks on the net, and that’s how you win games.”

As Girgensons talked, blood trickled from a gash on his swollen nose. He got cross-checked in the final minute, just before the main event. After the buzzer, the Jets rushed toward the Buffalo net. Lehner manhandled Bryan Little, then tried to fight Dustin Byfuglien as officials and the net separated the two.

“They came in and they started [expletive],” Lehner said. “You’ve got to stick up for each other. It’s too bad the refs came in between.”

The adrenaline of the fight and the rush from the victory spilled into the locker room, hence the shouts and applause. The Sabres and their fans will find out if it carries into the rest of the season. The first opportunity comes when Philadelphia visits Tuesday.

“It’s been a good week for our hockey team,” said Lehner, whose team went 2-0-1. “We’ve just got to keep building, keep practicing, keep doing the things that we’re supposed to do. If we stick to the game plan, we’re going to see better results.”

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