The passion was there to start, they weathered the push-back, and got a lucky bounce in the third.
It added up to the first win of 2018 for the Buffalo Sabres, who dispatched the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-1, in KeyBank Center Thursday night.
Benoit Pouliot, Kyle Okposo and Jack Eichel (empty net) scored for Buffalo while Linus Ullmark, recalled from Rochester to make his first NHL start of the season, made 44 saves.
Getting the jump: The Sabres came out with a strong, aggressive game, generating not just shots but legitimate scoring opportunities. They cashed in with 8:19 left in the first period. Kyle Okposo started the play by picking off a clearing attempt by Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington. The puck went to Eichel who set up Okposo in the slot. He took the shot and Benoit Pouliot was at the net's edge to tap in the rebound.
More goals than last year: The goal was the ninth of the season for Pouliot, passing his total of eight in 67 games with the Edmonton Oilers last season.
All-Star production: With his two-point game, Eichel has 17 points (10 goals, seven assists) in his last 11 games and is tied for fifth in the NHL with 16 even-strength points since Dec. 1.
Rare first-period lead: After 20 minutes, the Sabres had a 1-0 lead. It was just the eighth time in 44 games that the Sabres led after the first period. In their first seven they went 1-3-3.
Flashing the leather: Ullmark made a nifty, and key, glove save on Seth Jones with 9:54 left in the second period. The Blue Jackets came out with spunk to start the second, outshooting the Sabres 8-2 to start the period. Ullmark made some key saves, including that one, to preserve Buffalo's 1-0 lead..
Taking the bounces: With 12:42 left in the third period, Okposo gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead. Evander Kane shot the puck into the Blue Jackets' zone from the penalty box area. Jones went back to play the puck and Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was out of the net when the puck took an unusual bounce off the Zamboni entrance. Okposo jumped on the loose puck and fired it into the empty net.
Coming alive: Okposo who struggled to find points early in the season, is finding his touch on offense. With his assist and a goal Thursday, Okposo has nine points (four goals, five assists) in his last eight games.
Strong game from Guhle: Defenseman Brendan Guhle had another impressive showing in his second game with the Sabres this season. The first-year pro was again paired with Jake McCabe. While playing steady in his own end, he also joined the rush a few times, creating scoring opportunities and showing his speed. He picked up his first NHL point with the secondary assist on Okposo's goal.
Staying out of the box: For the first 40 minutes, neither team took a penalty. Well, that's until the 20 minute mark of the second. After the whistle blew there was a rumble in the corner between Rasmus Ristolainen and Josh Anderson. Both were given roughing penalties and the teams started the third skating four-on-four.
Blue Jackets on the board: The first power play of the night didn't come until 12:26 of the third when Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues went for tripping. Columbus took advantage when Artemi Panarin scored high on Ullmark to cut the Sabres lead to 2-1.
Sealing the deal: Eichel's empty-netter with 5.4 seconds left secured the win for the Sabres.
Counting the house: There were 18,071 in KeyBank Center Thursday night.
Scratches: The Sabres scratched defenseman Josh Gorges and goalie Chad Johnson. Columbus scratched former Sabre Zac Dalpe along with Sonny Milano and Dean Kukan.
Up next: The Sabres are on their bye week. They next play Jan. 18 at the New York Rangers. Their next game in KeyBank Center will be at 1 p.m. Jan. 20 against the Dallas Stars.