SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Rasmus Dahlin had just scored the tying goal and assisted on another in an unprecedented comeback win for the Sabres, yet the rookie defenseman expressed frustration over his play in the defensive zone.
"Offensively, I think so," Dahlin said when asked if Buffalo's 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild Saturday at Xcel Energy Center was his best performance of the season. "Defensively, I could be better."
His teammates and coach disagreed. Dahlin, only 20 games into his first NHL season and less than five months removed from being drafted first overall, was at the center of the Buffalo's fifth consecutive win in a grueling stretch.
He did make a minor mistake in the first period by climbing over to the bench instead of waiting for the puck to exit his own zone, leading to Zach Bogosian's turnover and Zach Parise's goal four minutes in. However, Dahlin responded by showing why he's regarded as a generational talent.
The 18-year-old isn't afraid to take a risk since he has the skill and skating to recover. That led him to join the rush late in the first period, despite his fellow defenseman, Jake McCabe, skating below the faceoff dot and no one around to help in the event of a turnover.
Dahlin received a drop pass from Kyle Okposo, charged through the right circle and made a perfect backdoor pass through traffic to find McCabe, who shot the puck into the open net to cut the deficit to one.
"You could see he kind of had his swagger out there," McCabe said. "He had his confidence and he was moving the puck. He was shaking and baking out there, really. His deceptiveness is really fun to watch, just as a player in general. Tonight he was at the top of his game."
If there was any doubt, Dahlin made another remarkable play in the third period with the game on the line. Again adhering to a directive from coach Phil Housley, Dahlin chose to join the rush. A similar decision nearly backfired on at least two occasions Saturday night. Not this time.
With the Sabres fighting for a loose puck in front of the net, Dahlin skated through and pounded home the rebound to tie the score with 7:02 remaining in regulation.
"We have to give him credit," Pominville, who scored the game-winning goal with 90 seconds remaining, said. "He’s going to be a lot of fun to see grow."
Those two points give Dahlin 10 this season, surpassing Rasmus Ristolainen for the most among the team's defensemen. The Sabres' defensemen now have scored 10 goals this season after not having one through 27 games in 2017-18.
Housley laughed when told of Dahlin's self-assessment. It was the rookie who showed the entire team exactly how the the coach wants the Sabres to play.
"He made some incredible plays," Housley said. "Even coming out of our own end. I would call that defense. It creates offense. ... It shows he has a knack to go to the right places."