Jack Eichel knew he'd be in pain at some point. It didn't matter. He wanted to play.
He played pretty well.
In the Sabres' lineup for the first time since Feb. 10, Eichel recorded an assist, had five shots on 11 attempts and drew a penalty that led to the winning goal in Buffalo's 5-3 victory over Chicago.
“I felt good," said Eichel, who missed 15 games with a high-ankle sprain. "It’s not easy to take that much time off, come back and feel like yourself. I thought before I got hurt I was playing some of my best hockey, and obviously you miss five weeks, you come back and you’re not as sharp as you want to be, your game’s not where you want it to be exactly.
"But you can’t be too picky. Obviously, a little bit of rust out there and a couple things I want to clean up, but overall it was just a lot of fun to get out there and play again. That was the biggest thing. I just really enjoy it. I enjoy playing the game, no matter what time of the year it is, who we’re playing, where we’re playing. It’s just a lot of fun to be out on the ice with these guys.”
Eichel skated 18:14, two minutes below his average of 20:02, but he felt the grind at one point. During the third period, he tweaked the ankle and was clearly in pain on the bench. He didn't miss a shift.
"You can tweak it here and there and it stings for a minute, but it comes back around," Eichel said. "Last year dealing with the injury and what goes with it, you know you’re going to tweak it. It’s not an if thing, it’s a when thing.
"You just want to get it to the point where you’re not thinking about it on the ice. I thought maybe in the first period I was a little hesitant. It’s my first game in five weeks, but I thought as the game went on I started to feel more comfortable, started to kind of forget about it and just play.”