It was a regular-season game in February. Nothing was on the line.
But when the Buffalo Sabres are trying to turn a corner as a franchise, trying to move along the rebuilding process and become a playoff team, a Tuesday in February can be a significant building block.
The buzz hasn’t worn off.
Down to the last 10:57 of regulation and trailing the San Jose Sharks, 4-1, the Sabres scored three goals in a span of 3 minutes, 28 seconds to tie the game. Before you knew it, Evander Kane was finishing off a break with Jack Eichel in overtime to give the Sabres a dramatic 5-4 win over a San Jose team that made a run to last season’s Stanley Cup Final and remains among the top teams in the Western Conference.
The Sabres have had a penchant for rallies this season. Nothing, however, was quite like what happened on Tuesday in KeyBank Center.
“In some of those previous games … we played a whole heck of a lot better,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after Tuesday’s win. “In those games we stuck with it and stuck with it and had a belief that we’re going to be able to get a goal or be able to come back in a game."
Tuesday was “a different feel,” Bylsma said. “We weren’t really happy with how we played. We weren’t real happy with how the game was going through the first two and you really just want to leave it all out there with how you play in the third period. That was the talk on the bench. That was the guys and their emotion. Just leave it out there, get one and see what happens. It was 3-1 at that time. It gets a little bit uglier for us but the guys really stayed with it. We kind of had that feeling we needed one play. We got the one play on the powe- play goal and you could feel the momentum building. Guys just had a sense and a belief that we were going to be able to keep coming and keep coming and come back in this game.”
To recap the comeback:
The Sharks took a 4-1 lead about six minutes into the third period. The Sabres started their comeback at 9:03 with a power-play goal from Ryan O’Reilly. Then came scores from Kane and Kyle Okposo to tie the game.
Kane scored 1:05 into overtime to give the Sabres the improbable win.
To recap the historical significance:
It was the first win by the Sabres when trailing by three goals since a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Dec. 27, 2014.
It was the latest the Sabres started a three-goal comeback since defeating Boston, 5-4, in a shootout on Nov. 2, 2006.
In that game, the Sabres started their come back at the 11:11 mark of the third when Maxim Afinogenov scored from Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek. The two set up Afinogenov again with 2:30 left in regulation, then Ales Kotalik tied the game with 1:35 left. The Sabres went on to win the shootout.
As far as non-shootout comeback wins, the Elias Sports Bureau noted Tuesday was just the second time in franchise history where the Sabres trailed by three or more goals in the final 11 minutes to earn a win.
The other was back on March 10, 1976 when the Sabres were down 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins but scored five goals in the final 8:35 for a 7-6 win. The game-tying and game-winning goals were scored by Gilbert Perreault.
Up next against the West:
The Sabres had a scheduled day off Wednesday and return to KeyBank Center Thursday to host the Anaheim Ducks. The next seven Sabres' home games are against Western Conference teams. Which is good news for the Sabres.
While they’ve struggled to make progress against teams in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, which ultimately helps the most in trying to qualify for the playoffs, they have had success against teams from the West.
The Sabres are 12-1-3 in their last 16 home games against teams from the Western Conference and are 10-4-2 in all games against the West this season. They are 12-17-8 versus teams in the East.
Their next two games are against Pacific Division teams (Anaheim Thursday, Vancouver Sunday) and the Sabres are 13-0-3 in their last 16 home games against that division. The last time the Sabres lost in regulation to a team from the Pacific was a 3-2 loss to Edmonton on Nov. 7, 2014.