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A wild weekend produces winning road trip for Sabres

ANAHEIM – If you're looking for a weekend that might turn around a season, and maybe even the entire direction of a franchise, the Buffalo Sabres just had one in sunny Southern California.

A daunting five-game road trip that could have easily destroyed yet another campaign just when it was getting started now looks like a launching point. The Sabres came home with six out of 10 points on their journey after Sunday's pulsating 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks in Honda Center.

Buffalo finished 3-2 on the trip, rolling to a 5-1 win Saturday in Los Angeles and holding on against the Ducks after wiping out a 2-0 deficit. The Sabres are 5-4 on the season and suddenly find themselves just two points out of the Atlantic Division lead.

Laugh if you must, but the Sabres have spent several years buried in October. This is the first time they've even won five games in the month since 2011.

"I'm really proud of our guys," said coach Phil Housley. "It was really fun to watch them play tonight, just the effort they put in."

Housley had plenty to be proud of because he gets a lot of credit for this weekend. He blew up all of his lines and his power-play units at practice Friday and got nine goals in the two games, including two with the man-advantage on Sunday.

"You never know what the outcome is going to be but I just like the way our guys responded in both games," Housley said. "It was the guys in that room who did the work."

The Sabres were dominant for long stretches of this one with a 45-28 advantage in shots on goal, and they poured 71 attempts at the Anaheim net. At times, the likes of Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel were skating circles around the Ducks in the Anaheim zone.

"We really worked as a unit and we were able to keep them hemmed in during the second period," said Eichel. "We tired them out, played really well. We cycled the puck and made it tough on them."

"It was really good for us and especially being down, 2-0," said Rasmus Ristolainen, whose power-play goal early in the third period was the game-winner. "In the past, maybe we start changing something but today we were able to stick with it the whole game. We earned that win."

The Wraparound: Sabres 4, Ducks 2

Three players got their first goal of the season and they were all big ones.

Kyle Okposo's power-play goal at 16:03 of the second period got the Sabres on the scoreboard on their 25th shot of the night and pulled them within 2-1. Ristolainen's laser that careeened off the goalpost past Ryan Miller at 3:57 of the third snapped a 2-2 tie and gave the Sabres the lead, and Patrik Berglund's first goal as a Sabre found the empty net with 17 seconds left.

The clincher came after a frantic final 40 seconds that saw Carter Hutton make a pair of huge saves and get huge help from Johan Larsson, who swept a loose puck off the goal line.

"I saw it roll out from underneath 'Hutts' and I was just trying to put it underneath him," Larsson said. "It came out again and you're just scrambling from there. It was a great win to get. We deserved this. We played good hockey, played in their zone and created chances the whole game."

Skinner was the best player on the ice and got a richly deserved fourth goal in two games to tie the score, 2-2, at 17:31 of the second. Jason Pominville's slick pass on a 2-on-1 sent Skinner in alone and he beat Miller on the backhand but the play started with Eichel's no-look backhand pass through the neutral zone.

"Not many players in this league can make that play," Skinner said. "It's an unbelievable play on the wall and then 'Pommer' does a great job getting the puck over the guy's stick and giving me a little bit of a break."

There was plenty of hooting and hollering audible inside the Buffalo dressing room after the win as reporters waited outside to enter. There hasn't been much to like about this team for several years. And the mood was dark just a few days ago after back-to-back one-goal games in Vegas and San Jose.

But the Sabres found some magic the last two games. Suddenly, they have speed. And offense. And a power play again. It makes quite a difference.

"To have it end that way, bounce back to play really good games, is good," Ristolainen said. "I thought we played winning hockey the last two games. We're going to learn from this. We know what works and will stay with it."

The Sabres play next Thursday night in KeyBank Center against Montreal. The hope is that the home fans will get a chance to see the kind of hockey this club has put on the ice the last two games.

"Obviously we've got a long flight back to Buffalo and a lot to think about but we're going to get ready for Montreal," Housley said. "We're going to really enjoy this."

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