PITTSBURGH – Punching both fists forward in celebration while holding his stick high in the air, Jack Eichel screamed "Yes, yes, yes!" toward the Sabres' bench.
Eichel, the 22-year-old captain drafted second overall by Buffalo four summers ago, had just scored 45 seconds into overtime to complete a 5-4 comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on Monday night.
His wrist shot past the Penguins' Casey DeSmith was Buffalo's fourth unanswered goal and delivered the franchise its first six-game winning streak since 2010. The Sabres, now 13-6-2, did not win their 13th game until Jan. 23 last season. With Eichel's help, they celebrated on the home ice of a team only one year removed from a second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.
He and his teammates now return to Buffalo with three comeback wins on a grueling three-game road trip, and again showed signs of being more than an early season surprise.
"You look at the room, I think the guys are believing the next guy’s going to get the job done and set you up for your shifts," Eichel beamed afterward. "We’re a pretty tight bunch right now for how many new guys have come into this team. ... Everyone out there doesn’t want to let the guy next to them down."
Every line contributed after another sluggish start. Rookie center Casey Mittelstadt scored the tying goal 11:12 into the third period on a wrist shot from the left circle, while Tage Thompson, Zach Bogosian and Casey Nelson also had goals.
The Sabres killed off two power plays, including 29 seconds of a 5-on-3. Carter Hutton stopped 36 of the 40 shots he faced, including a 2-on-0 with Buffalo on the power play in the first period. This comeback was possibly the most unprecedented of the season.
Tanner Pearson's rebound goal five minutes into the second gave the Penguins a three-goal lead. Buffalo was losing out on every loose puck, struggled to pass through the neutral zone and couldn't contain Pittsburgh's speed.
Even Rasmus Dahlin, the Sabres' best player against the Minnesota Wild two nights earlier, was beat on three goals. Derick Brassard skated past the rookie defenseman for a breakaway goal, Phil Kessel beat Dahlin to a centering pass at the crease for a 2-1 lead at 16:15 into the first and Dahlin was in front of the net when Pearson poked in the rebound.
A bit of bad luck gave Jake Guentzel a rebound for the third goal. The Sabres couldn't escape their own zone and were overmatched. The Penguins' three unanswered goals were scored from a combined 24 feet away from the net.
"It seems to be a habit, but just resiliency," Hutton said of the slow start.
As was the case in their three previous wins, Hutton helped them regain momentum. His biggest stop came moments after the 5-on-3 midway through the second period, when he used the paddle of his stick to stop Kessel from scoring on the open net. Two minutes after killing both penalties, Bogosian scored with a one-timed slap shot on a pass from Jeff Skinner. With 1:42 left in the second, Nelson cut the deficit to one goal when his shot was deflected past DeSmith.
"I think the key moment of the game, obviously, was the 5 on 3, but that third goal by Nelson to get within one before we got off the ice at the end of the second period, that gave us a real spark," Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
The Penguins, now 7-9-3 and losers in four straight, were unbeaten this season when leading after the second period. Yet, the Sabres took over in the final 20 minutes and now have an NHL-best five wins when trailing after two. Buffalo had an 18-9 advantage in shots during the third and both teams finished with 40.
The Sabres stopped making familiar mistakes and returned to the recipe that helped them win five straight games. They stopped losing the loose-pucks battles along the boards, began making crisp passes through the neutral zone and wouldn't allow Pittsburgh to get the puck in space.
That relentlessness paid off in overtime, when Rasmus Ristolainen dove to swat a puck from his own blue line to Eichel, who carried it up the right side before firing a wrist shot from the right circle for his fifth goal of the season and the win.
Now, he and the Sabres will return home on a run that's beginning to resemble the one in 2005-06, a season that ended with a Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference finals.
"I thought that was a heck of a road trip against three really good hockey teams," Eichel said.