Linus Ullmark was sitting at his stall in KeyBank Center following practice Friday while Sam Reinhart stood across the home dressing room surrounded by reporters.
Reinhart was explaining how he misspoke the previous night when it appeared he blamed Ullmark for a loss to Carolina and called the 25-year-old goalie "already one of the best in the world."
While it is likely too soon to measure Ullmark against the league's best, he showed Saturday afternoon why his teammates have expressed an unwavering confidence in his ability in net. Ullmark made 28 saves, including his third-period stop on Andreas Athanasiou's breakaway, to help the Buffalo Sabres beat the Detroit Red Wings, 3-1.
"Nothing goes through your mind," Ullmark said of his breakaway save. "He's a very fast guy. It's all about taking away as much as possible. Put the pedal to the metal. Luckily it bounced off, and I kept it outside the net."
The Sabres made Ullmark's job easier with their improved defensive play. Jake McCabe and Zach Bogosian laid out to break up 2-on-1 backdoor passes. For the most part, they kept the Red Wings' scoring chances to the short side and cleared traffic from in front of the net.
Still, Detroit received a few scoring chances because of unforced errors by Buffalo. Ullmark stopped Darren Helm during a 2-on-1 with 5:34 left in the first period — Lawrence Pilut closed off the passing lane to force Helm to shoot — and managed to stay in front of Justin Abdelkader's deflection in the second period.
The Sabres were controlling play in the third period when Tage Thompson and Vladimir Sobotka rushed toward Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard for a 2-on-1. However, Thompson forced a pass and Athanasiou was sprung for a breakaway. Ullmark closed off his five-hole with a butterfly save and corralled the rebound to maintain a two-goal lead.
"It’s a fine line," coach Phil Housley said. "We have a two-goal lead and a guy gets a breakaway. Those things, we just have to be aware, especially [against] a team that likes to stretch the zone. Realize and sense that danger when possession is in question because we got enough goals to win the game at that point. Let's let them crack and Linus made a couple big saves for us."
Ullmark had a .871 save percentage in his previous five games — two of which were relief appearances when Carter Hutton was pulled — while receiving little help from his teammates. In the 6-5 overtime loss to Carolina, five of the six goals allowed were scored within a few feet of the net.
He has made acrobatic, highlight-reel saves following ugly defensive plays, yet he won only two of his previous seven starts. His one weakness crept up against the Red Wings. With the Sabres leading 2-0, Dylan Larkin skated past Bogosian and behind the net.
Ullmark was slow to get to the right post, and Larkin buried a backhanded wraparound at 17:14 into the second period. It was the second such goal Ullmark allowed this week.
"I kind of misread that a little bit," Ullmark explained. "I got outside my post. It's definitely a bad goal from my part, especially now that it happened in a short amount of time. We know what to do, and sometimes you screw up."
Despite Marco Scandella taking a penalty with 3:32 left in regulation, Ullmark held on for the win. In Sabres history, no goalie has a better save percentage in their first 50 appearances with the team than Ullmark (.914).
Housley typically splits back-to-back games between his two goalies, however, he left the door open for Ullmark to start Sunday against Winnipeg. After all, the Sabres have not won back-to-back games in almost two months.
"We really played as a team today," Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt said. "When a mistake was made there was somebody there to help. Linus made some big saves to bail us out of situations. We have to be there for each other."