With a wrist shot over Laurent Brossoit's shoulder, Conor Sheary undid another uneven game by the Sabres and gave the franchise its first four-game winning streak in nearly four years.
Sheary's goal in the seventh shootout round, one of three by Buffalo, clinched a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night in front of a raucous crowd of 15,321 at Bell MTS Place. Only three days after beating Tampa Bay, the Sabres have now proven capable of playing against the league's best.
Buffalo, now 11-6-2, is 5-1 in its last six games and moved into third place in the Atlantic Division, only three points behind the first-place Lightning. Again, the Sabres prevailed despite playing poorly for long stretches and relying on their goalie to steal a win.
"It should give us some confidence," said winger Jeff Skinner, whose team-high 14th goal of the season helped send the game to overtime, said. "It definitely gives us some confidence in [Carter Hutton]. I don't think we want to ask that much of him every night, but he’s been huge the last two games. We’ve played some pretty good teams and gotten the job done."
Again, the comeback started with Hutton. The 32-year-old goalie stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced, as well as seven in the shootout. This after he saved 29 of 30 against Tampa Bay. Jets winger Patrik Laine, whose scored the second-most goals in the NHL since the start of last season, had a chance at the top of the goal crease as time expired, but Hutton was there to stop him.
When the Sabres were outshot 12-4 in the first period, Hutton was there to keep the game scoreless. It wasn't until 7:10 into the second period that Winnipeg's onslaught finally produced a goal. Tage Thompson's turnover in Buffalo's offensive zone gave the Jets a 2-on-1, which ended with Kyle Connor's shot over Hutton's shoulder for a 1-0 lead.
"Obviously, Carter made some huge saves," coach Phil Housley said. "The one thing for me was just our execution. We were off. They’re a team that has a terrific transition game. They can hem you in until we got to the second period, and we started shooting the puck. It started to loosen up for us."
The Sabres had little success pushing the puck through the neutral zone in the first period, leading to turnovers and odd-man rushes. They were completely overwhelmed, much like they were for two periods against the Lightning.
However, they managed to gain momentum in the second period. Buffalo outshot Winnipeg, 28-14, for the rest of the game by following Housley's simple mantra: shoot first. That finally helped their struggling power play break through.
After defenseman Rasmus Dahlin won a battle along the boards, Skinner hammered home a rebound at 53 seconds into the third to tie the score. Hutton and Brossoit then took turns making spectacular saves for the final 19 minutes of regulation.
"It’s one of those things where you don’t want to have that," Hutton said. "You don’t want it to become a habit. I thought in the second we still gave up a lot of chances but we started to get some offense too."
Finally, the Sabres' defensemen were getting involved in the rush, and the passes in the neutral zone were finding open forwards. Once the game got to overtime, they were able to continue to apply pressure, even though the margin for error was even smaller. Defenseman Zach Bogosian's blown assignment gave Laine enough room to give the Jets the win, however, Hutton made the stop.
Jack Eichel and Jason Pominville both scored in the shootout, the latter of which extended Buffalo's chance at escaping with two points. Hutton stopped Mathieu Perreault's wrister in the seventh shootout round after Kyle Okposo failed to end it with his backhand attempt.
Finally, Sheary's wrister gave the Sabres a key win in a grueling stretch where they'll play six games in nine nights. Buffalo showed it had the skill to skate with Winnipeg. The Sabres also showed they're strong enough down low to win loose-puck battles against one of the Western Conference's mightiest teams.
There was some level concern afterwards that they're playing far too inconsistent for this success to continue. Yet, after what most of the players endured during the franchise's lean years, taking two points on the road against one of the league's best was enough to send them to the team charter hopeful the best is still to come.
"I just think we bent a little bit but we didn't break," Housley said. "I think last year we maybe would have broke a little bit more and gave the game away, but we hung in there. That's what's great about this group."