Let's start at the end. The clock was inside the last minute Thursday and with a two-goal lead locked away, Carter Hutton wanted to seize opportunity.
The Arizona Coyotes' net was empty and the puck was rimmed around the boards. Hutton stopped it and took aim with what looked like plenty of room in the middle of the ice to fire it 200 feet into the opposite goal.
His foray with Sabres' history — no Buffalo goalie has ever scored by shooting the puck into the opposing net — was knocked out of mid-air by Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. No harm, no foul. A good time had by all.
There's been plenty of good times for Hutton, by far the best player the Sabres have had in the net since Ryan Miller was traded nearly five years ago.
"I had a good line on it, Ekman-Larsson has to let that go for everyone's sake but he made a good play to knock out of the air," a smiling Hutton said after the Sabres' 3-1 victory in KeyBank Center. "We had a two-goal lead, I had a good chance at the rim and I kind of had it in my mind to take a chance on it. I think I forced it a little bit."
"I knew he was going to do it," said captain Jack Eichel. "He plays the puck so well and he’s always messing around. I had a feeling if they rimmed one in he would do it. I would’ve loved to see him get one."
So now we have Goal Alert for the goalie. No doubt Hutton will try it again someday with a two-goal cushion. Mika Noronen is the only Sabres goalie to score, and it came when the Toronto Maple Leafs shot the puck the length of the ice into their own net on a delayed penalty in 2004.
But through all the fun — Hutton spoke to reporters while wearing a Tre White Goalie Academy Hoodie -- the serious side to things is that Hutton is in the high-rent district among NHL goalies this season. He looks like the best free agent signing of last summer, a veritable bargain at $2.75 million per season.
This was Hutton's 13th win of the season. He's tied for fourth in the league with former teammate Pekka Rinne of Nashville, Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck and Anaheim's John Gibson.
The only players with more are Vegas' Marc-Andre Fleury (18), Toronto's Frederik Andersen (17) and Tampa Bay's Louis Domingue (14).
"Carter brings a lot of energy and passion every day to the game," said coach Phil Housley. "His work habits and work ethic speak a lot about who he is. ... The way he communicates within our group has been invaluable. To top it off, he's played some really solid hockey for us so that all adds up to good things."
When the Sabres make a mistake, Hutton is there. Sam Reinhart had a rough giveaway in the second period and Hutton bailed him out with a glove save on Derek Stepan, a guy who has 148 NHL goals. That glove has been sharp all season and when a goalie starts believing in it, it's tough to beat.
"It's that one thing that you can eliminate rebounds with and it's something I try to pride myself on," Hutton said. "Nothing fancy, just trying to eliminate rebounds, get whistles, kill plays when it's in the zone. Tonight they obviously had a couple good looks and I was able to kill a couple."
"He’s been so good for us this year," Eichel said. "And again tonight he was awesome, made some really big saves at big times."
It had been 10 days since Hutton's last start in Nashville and the Sabres had been teetering in the interim while he was nursing an upper-body tweak. This is no knock on Linus Ullmark. You could easily make the case he's been one of the better backups in the league this season with a 6-1-3 record and .912 save percentage.
But Hutton is security for this team. Even though he's never been a full-time starter before in the NHL, he has experience playing behind the likes of Rinne, one of the best in the game. He's paying it forward with Ullmark and the tandem has generated confidence from the group in front of them all season.
The Sabres entered Thursday's game 14th in the NHL in goals against at 2.94 per game and seventh in save percentage (.911). Last year, those figures were 3.39 and .896 -- and they were 29th in the league in both categories. Yes, poor Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson didn't have Rasmus Dahlin or a healthy Zach Bogosian in front of them, but neither was remotely good enough either.
The Sabres were 11-25-5 at home last season, a disgraceful showing that was akin to their early expansion years of the 70s. Here we are nearly two weeks before Christmas and they're already 11-3-2.
Goaltending is a huge reason why. Hutton has won six straight downtown, where he's 9-2-1/2.31/.928.
"I didn't really set a lot of goals," he said. "I just try to stay in the moment, just chip away at it. I didn't really think of the starter transition. I can play in games, compete and do well. That's my mindset. You chip away at it, day by day, game by game and then you get to this point and things are good.
"Pack this one away, get ready for the next one. Chip away and hopefully by the end of the season, we're in a great place."