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COMMENTARY

Sabres need to bring a suddenly improving road show back home

Mike Harrington

NEW YORK -- What we saw Friday night in the World's Most Famous Arena is the kind of game the Sabres need to stuff in their carryons and take back to KeyBank Center.

Defense that chokes the neutral zone. Crisp breakouts. Stellar passing. Nifty finishes. All backed by strong goaltending.

It all seems so simple. It's the recipe that should win anywhere.

The Sabres got all of those facets together for the first 57 minutes in building a 3-0 cushion over the New York Rangers. That they were fortunate to survive with a 3-2 win doesn't dull the accomplishment one bit from this view.

Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart and Jimmy Vesey got the goals and all were beauties, with two of them set up by sublime assists from Jack Eichel. Carter Hutton made 37 saves and has won two of his last three starts after going winless for more than three months.

"Our D did a great job breaking the puck out with 'Hutts' and he's a good (puck) handler who started a lot of our breakouts too," Eichel said. "We had some opportunistic goals, were able to find ways to get the puck out. It's a gritty effort."

After three months of struggles on the road that were capped by a tortuous 1-7-3 slide, the Sabres are suddenly 3-1 in the last four when they arrive via the friendly skies.

Home has been the site of 15 of their 24 wins. But now the atmosphere downtown has been poisoned by the brutal showings since the break. The losses to Ottawa and Montreal, and the mind-blowing shootout defeat to hapless Detroit, ruined any playoff hope during this 10-game stretch where nine are at home.

This was the lone road game and it was a perfect lesson. Starting Sunday against Anaheim, the Sabres have four more home contests in eight days. They have to remember this one. They can turn the boos to cheers pretty quick. Just produce.

"We play a real simple game on the road and stick within a very small picture of going shift by shift," said coach Ralph Krueger. "You can see everybody is all in. We're dealing with some adversity at the end of the game very well. Everybody stays calm on the bench. We like our road game and now let's take it home."

Girgensons' goal was a neat deke after Colin Miller did heavy work. Vesey got the game-winner on a backhand after a ridiculous stretch pass by Eichel from inside his own zone.

And Reinhart scored the prettiest goal of the night, beating Filip Chytil down the ice and burning Alexander Georgiev with a backhand under the crossbar for his 20th of the season.

That came on the end of a shift that totaled 2 minutes, 9 seconds. It was split by an icing call and the Eichel line was stuck on the ice for 66 seconds after that until the goal.

"We were really gassed at the whistle there, but gathered composure and kept them to the outside," Reinhart said. "'Ves' made a good play to turn the puck over and we were able to capitalize on the break."

Eichel gave a quick hesitation with the puck before passing it to Reinhart fully in stride.

"It makes it easy, especially at that point of the shift," Reinhart said. "You're just trying to make a play. Obviously it's nice to see that one go in."

Hutton was three minutes away from a shutout before goals from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, the latter on a 6-on-4 with 1:40 left, made things tense. But Hutton held the fort, finishing with 36 saves.

"We did a good job. They've got some dangerous players," Hutton said. "It's tough on a back to back and it's good we started well. It's just a fun game. It was fun playing at MSG. It's a game to get up for."

"His composure tonight really translated through the lineup," Reinhart said. "That was a huge effort from him."

Now it's time for better effort in front of the paying customers at home. Reinhart said simple early shifts with all the lines keeping them short got everyone into the game in the first period. The Sabres allowed just 16 shots on goal in the first 40 minutes.

"We're just putting some things together," Eichel said. "I thought tonight we didn't try to make it an offensive track meet. We tried to bottle up their speed because we know they're a fast team and make a lot of plays."

"We don't feel a negative pressure at home," Krueger said. "It's more possibly we get a little bit too creative or try too much with the puck when there's no opportunity. Today, the management of the puck compared to our last game here in New York when we were a turnover machine (in a 6-2 loss Oct. 24), we learned from that hard lesson.

"They punished us last time and we were really able to take care of the puck well tonight. We had some extended O-zone shifts, really nice goals to produce that 3-0 lead. There was calm with the puck that we need to have against Anaheim."

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