LOS ANGELES – Jordan Nolan was focused on trying to help the Buffalo Sabres get their first win of the season here Saturday night. But returning to Staples Center certainly brought back memories of June 11, 2012.
The Los Angeles Kings were one win away from the first Stanley Cup in their 45-year history heading into Game Six of the Cup final against New Jersey. They scored three power-play goals on a first-period major penalty and had a 4-1 lead through 40 minutes.
The game was in the bag. As Nolan sat on the bench and took his shifts, he had an entire period of hockey where he knew he was going to win a Cup. No excruciating drama. No overtime goal to create sudden victory, like the Kings earned in 2014 on Alec Martinez's goal that beat the Rangers when Nolan was a healthy scratch.
The last five Cup clinchers have been taut thrillers. The 2012 Kings could breathe easy on the way to a 6-1 win.
"We finished eighth that year and it was an incredible playoff run where I felt like we were almost destined to win the Stanley Cup that year," Nolan said Saturday prior to the Sabres' game against the Kings. "That final game, we had the big power play and guys were almost waiting for the game to end so we could get going and celebrate.
"But guys were in the moment too. You almost wanted the game to last a little longer because it's not every day you get to play in the Stanley Cup final and know for sure, totally for sure, you're about to win the Stanley Cup. It's one of those moments in your life where if you could live it again, you'd definitely want to do it."
Nolan played 292 games with the Kings over the last six seasons before being waived near the end of training camp. The Sabres claimed him and Saturday was his third game in a Buffalo uniform.
"There's obviously a lot of good memories here," he said. "Anytime you come back to your old team there's butterflies in your stomach and you think back to all the good times you had. But in a way, it's a business and LA was going a different path. So I came here and I'm not really thinking about the Kings too much."
Nolan, however, did say he'd have a bit of a chip on his shoulder playing against the team that gave up on him.
"They didn't want me anymore," he said. "So I think anytime a team doesn't want you, you want to prove them wrong and show them what they're missing out on. I'll move past that and try to help this team win. It will probably be a little bit different but I'm happy to be with Buffalo ... I'm not looking too much at playing my old team."
The Sabres entered the game having endured four straight shutouts at the hands of the Kings in this building. All were by 2-0 scores. Reminded of that point, Nolan said it wasn't surprising.
"LA is pretty structured, really defensive. They've got a great goalie, great penalty kill," Nolan said, referring to Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. "When I was there, we took a lot of passion in that style. When you come in this barn, you have to stick to your structure. They almost just wait and take the game to you slowly. They want to win 1-0, 2-1.
"That's what they like. Our coaching staff at that time always talked about how it was a 2-1 league, a 3-2 league. They don't mind playing that style and it's worked out for them."
Nolan said he was thrilled his father, former Sabres coach Ted Nolan, made the trek from Poland to see the team's season opener Oct. 5 against Montreal. Ted Nolan, who was fired as Sabres coach following the 2014-15 tank season, is currently coaching the Polish National Team.
"He was a little tired but that was exciting for him," Jordan Nolan said. "He got his start in Buffalo and I'm getting a fresh start in Buffalo now. It's pretty special for our family to be back in the Sabres organization. He was pretty tired that night so I didn't talk to him that much."
The Sabres played Saturday's game without veteran winger Kyle Okposo, who didn't play because of illness. Kyle Okposo missed the morning skate Thursday in San Jose but played in the Sabres' 3-2 defeat and actually put together his best game of the season, collecting five shots on goal and playing 20 minutes, 35 seconds.
But he was too sick to practice Friday or take the morning skate Saturday.
"He's feeling a little bit under the weather so we're going to give him the night off," coach Phil Housley said before the game. "He's just got a bug. He fought through it in San Jose with a really good effort but it's gotten the best of him. He's feeling a lot better today."
Okposo, in the second season of his seven-year, $42 million contract, has no points and a minus-6 rating in the first four games. Housley said he didn't know if Okposo would play Sunday in Anaheim but there's a good chance he'd be ready for the road trip finale Tuesday in Las Vegas.
"Housley said Okposo's illness is unrelated to the health scare the forward had in April, when reaction to concussion medication landed him in the neuro ICU unit of Buffalo General Medical Center for several days.
Matt Moulson took Okposo's spot on the second line with Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly. The lone healthy scratch was rookie defenseman Victor Antipin, who sat for the second straight game. Josh Gorges made his second straight appearance after sitting the first three games.
The Sabres were to head down the freeway to Anaheim immediately after the game and will play the Ducks on Sunday night in Honda Center (9 p.m., MSG, Radio 550 AM). The Ducks are 2-2-1 and coming off a 3-1 loss Friday at Colorado.
The Sabres' last visit to Anaheim was in March, and they posted a memorable 2-1 shootout win as Zemgus Girgensons scored in the 10th round to win the skills contests, the longest one Buffalo has had on the road in its history.
Former Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who signed with the Ducks over the summer, will not be in the lineup. He's on injured reserve with a wrist injury suffered during preseason, but has returned to on-ice work and hopes to be playing in games by the end of the month.