CALGARY – There haven't been many postgame celebrations for the Buffalo Sabres, so each one is special. This one, however, could be tough to top.
The hugs for Chad Johnson were tighter and longer than usual. The pats on Jack Eichel's helmet were more pronounced and enthusiastic than normal.
Everyone knew it was a meaningful game for the goaltender and the team. For once, everyone responded.
Johnson stopped 32 of 33 shots and Eichel scored the game-winner in overtime as Buffalo earned a 2-1 victory over Calgary on Monday. It was Johnson's first win since October, and the high-fiving players were well-aware.
"We were most happy because we got the win for Johnny," Eichel said in Scotiabank Saddledome. "He's in his hometown here. I guess he's been on the wrong side of some bad efforts by us this year, and I think we feel for him.
"It was awesome. We know how sensational he was in this game and how bad he wanted it. I'm really excited to see him get a win here."
We know you want to see that again.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) January 23, 2018
Adding to the excitement was a rare complete effort. The Sabres played solid from start to finish and end to end. They looked nothing like the team that lost, 7-1, to Dallas on Saturday.
They looked like an NHL team.
"I can't say enough about how we competed from the start to the finish," Johnson said. "That's what we've needed, and that's what you need to win hockey games. You have to play hard right from the start to the end no matter the score, whether you're up two, down two.
"We really competed on pucks. We were in shot lanes. The D were battling in front of me. It was a hockey game. That was, I think, the first one I've been a part of this year. It felt like a normal hockey game."
Typical Sabres games feature terrible turnovers, uninspired efforts and lackadaisical attitudes. This outing featured respectable play in all zones, although the goal output was still low.
"It was a great response," coach Phil Housley said. "Everybody contributed."
They all contributed to the postgame party. The Sabres gathered along the boards after Eichel buried a one-timer with 1:30 gone in overtime, just two seconds after a Calgary penalty ended.
The initial hugs were for Eichel, who scored his 19th goal and extended his point streak to six games. The heartier ones were for Johnson, who improved to 2-8-3 after not winning since Oct. 15 in Anaheim.
"It means a lot," Johnson said. "Obviously, it's been a tough year. I felt good with my game. It's been mentally challenging this whole season not really getting some bounces. It's hard not to want to just change everything: change the gear, change your style.
"But (goaltending coach Andrew Allen) has been good for me telling me to stay the course and the results will come. To be able to get rewarded, not have some fluky goals or hear post and post and in, just things like that, to have a really good hockey game played in front of me and to get rewarded with the result was huge for me and huge for my confidence."
While the game will linger with Johnson, the Sabres (12-26-9) don't have time to bask in the glory. They visit Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. If they revert to previous form, this fun night will essentially be meaningless.
"If the guys make a choice and compete and play for each other, we're a really good hockey team," Housley said. "We've shown it in the past. We have to be more consistent. We have to get ready for another tough game against Edmonton, who's been waiting since Saturday, so we've got to enjoy this but refocus and continue to play the way we did tonight."
The way they played Monday was inspiring for the guys in the dressing room.
"There's a minute left and we get a power play, you're thinking, 'Hey, this could be it. I could get a win here and we could pull this out,'" Johnson said. "We've had times where we've played with a lot of compete throughout a game but never the full 60 minutes. I think if we could just really challenge ourselves next game to just bring that again, that's going to be the key. That's what it comes down to because that's the hardest part about this game is bringing that every night.
"There was that compete in everybody's legs and their heart. To be a part of that and just be part of a normal game from start to finish – not just sloppiness or whatever it is – to be part of a normal hockey game, I felt good. I felt really good."