Sam Reinhart helped change the narrative for the Buffalo Sabres with one shot Tuesday night. Reinhart, skating in alone during the third shootout round in KeyBank Center, released a shot hard enough that the puck rolled slowly through Devan Dubnyk to cross the goal line.
Linus Ullmark proceeded to stop Zach Parise at the other end of the ice to clinch the Sabres' 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild. Buffalo, now 26-20-6, blew a two-goal lead in the second period and allowed the tying goal with 1:37 remaining in regulation.
A loss would have raised additional questions about their roster and playoff hopes. Instead, the Sabres kept pace with Carolina – which defeated Pittsburgh, 3-0, Tuesday night – and showed tangible signs of progress, despite some familiar lapses near their own net.
"The games are kind of winding down in a hurry, and we know how important every game is," Reinhart, who also scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, said.
Housley threw his forward lines and defensive pairings into a blender following a 7-3 loss to Chicago on Friday night. Additionally, the Sabres' coach changed his power-play personnel and opted to use Linus Ullmark as his starting goalie for the second of seven straight home games.
Some changes worked, others didn't. Buffalo scored two power-play goals, beginning with Evan Rodrigues' to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead 4:31 into the game. Rasmus Dahlin added another at 11:33 into the second period for a two-goal advantage.
Ullmark, who posted a .891 save percentage over his previous seven games, made 41 saves -- not counting the three he made during the shootout.
On the other hand, the Sabres again struggled in their own zone.
Lawrence Pilut's turnover – the result of a pass missed by Vladimir Sobotka – resulted in Jared Spurgeon scoring the tying goal at 6:29 into the second period. After the Sabres took a 3-1 lead, Charlie Coyle tied the score, 3-3, when he beat Pilut and Rodrigues to a loose puck in the crease, and poked it over the goal line with 2:55 left in the second period.
"We had some breakdowns, especially in the second," Rodrigues said. "Just a little bit lackadaisical. I thought we sat back a little bit. We let them come up with a ton of speed in the neutral zone. ... When a team comes at you with that much speed in the neutral zone it’s hard to stop them."
The Sabres were outshot, 10-1, for the first six minutes of the second period. Conversely, in the first period they had 10 shot attempts on Dubnyk before Minnesota had one.
With the net empty and six Wild players on the ice, Minnesota tied the score when Parise jammed a puck between the inside of the post and Ullmark's right leg pad to send the game into overtime.
"It’s a game we found a way to win," Housley said. "In the second period – you don’t want to sound negative – but we had a 3-1 lead. That’s a time to really lock it down and keep a simple game. I thought we were trying to get four and not in the right way. In the defensive zone, guys were beating us back to the net. We’ve got to learn how to tighten it up."
Housley finally found some 5-on-5 success by tinkering his forward lines in the third period. Jack Eichel, reunited with Jeff Skinner and Jason Pominville for the final 15 minutes of regulation, finished with nine shots on goal in 25 minutes, 57 seconds of ice time. But it was the line of Reinhart, Conor Sheary and Casey Mittelstadt that scored what could have been the decisive goal.
Reinhart one-timed a pass from Jake McCabe into the open net to make it 4-3 with 13:35 remaining in regulation. Reinhart also had success skating alongside Rodrigues and C.J. Smith, who scored his second goal of the season at 7:32 into the second period.
"I thought we really had a lot of quality zone time, a lot of good looks," Housley said of his third-period changes. "We had to shorten the bench there a little bit towards the end. … I liked the way the guys stayed aggressive with the game."
Though Housley will have some difficult decisions to make, Tuesday night revealed a number of potential options for forward lines.
However, defense is why they have not won back-to-back games in nearly two months. The Wild (26-22-5) had 45 shots on goal during regulation and overtime. There were still too many turnovers and long possessions in the Sabres' defensive zone.
This was the eighth time in nine games the Sabres had allowed three or more goals. They allowed three goals only three times during their 10-game winning streak in November.
"As important as [goaltending] is in this league, to win hockey games we feel that we have to do a better job limiting them," Reinhart said.