Dmitry Kulikov knew his 500th game was coming. He just didn’t think it was Saturday.
“I thought I was 10, 15 away from 500,” Kulikov said. “It was a good surprise and a good 500.”
Forget good. Compared to the rest of the season, it was an incredible, fantastic, extraordinary 500.
After an injury-plagued year that featured just one goal and one assist in 39 games, Kulikov finally got a chance to have fun against Toronto. The defenseman doubled his season output, recording a goal and assist in the 5-2 victory over the Maple Leafs.
It was an impressive return after missing nine games with a concussion.
“I was just trying to take advantage of the opportunity I’ve got in the last eight games,” Kulikov said. “It’s fun to play when things are going your way and when the team is winning. I had a lot of fun.”
With Rasmus Ristolainen serving the first of his three-game suspension, Kulikov joined Jake McCabe as Buffalo’s top defense pair. He skated 23:55, including 2:40 short-handed and 1:09 on the power play. Both of his points came during the man-advantage.
“It was big task,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “Without Risto in the lineup, he was top pairing, playing against their good players. He stepped into the power play, and it was seamless.”
Kulikov will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. After suffering a preseason back injury that lingered for months and the concussion, he has a chance to head into the offseason strong.
“Dmitry’s looked really good coming back from his injury,” Bylsma said. “He’s skating well. The last two days of practice had been his most aggressive, most physical and the way he can play. I thought he stepped right into the game and showed that for us.”