The house band in KeyBank Center was into the spirit of the night during the second intermission Wednesday. And it perfectly fit the Buffalo Sabres' two-day, two-game turnaround.
On '90s Night, playing the 1997 Chumbawamba hit "I Get Knocked Down" made perfect sense. Because the Sabres have suddenly gotten up again after their ugly eight-game losing streak.
Tuesday's 7-2 win in Montreal was followed by Wednesday's impressive, 6-2 triumph over the St. Louis Blues, who hit town on a seven-game winning streak and left with the howling of a crowd of 17,302 in their ears. Buffalo returned to its black and red "goathead" jerseys and revived the kind of hockey that was so much a part of the late '90s and early 2000s during the 11-year stretch the Sabres went away from blue and gold.
"That was special from the first moment that I put it on and I didn't want to take it off after that game," said Alex Tuch, who grew up in suburban Syracuse as a Sabres fan from the goathead era. "That was unbelievable. You saw the crowd get into it. ... They were on top of it, they were dialed in. They love the goathead, we love the goathead. It was a special night for me to say the least."
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The Sabres go for three in a row Friday night here against New Jersey on a quick little burst that has seen them erupt for 13 goals in two games and score in the first minute of consecutive games since Alex Kotalik did it on Dec. 19 and 21, 2006.
Jeff Skinner led the Sabres with two goals – including a bar-down snipe after just 18 seconds of play -- and Jack Quinn scored twice in the third period to end any thought of a St. Louis comeback. Dylan Cozens' one-timer on a 3-on-1 break in the second period snapped a 1-1 tie and gave the Sabres the lead for keeps in support of goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen's first NHL victory of the season.
Black and Red is back for 12 games this season. No offense, Blue and Gold. Just a nod to history. And people were stoked about it.
"The guys were very excited going into tonight knowing what the night was," said coach Don Granato. "There was lots of chatter about the uniforms and the history of the team and the franchise. And our guys love that stuff and they felt it tonight. And I think the crowd was incredible."
"It was huge. You see how passionate the fans were tonight, so it's exciting for us moving forward," added Cozens. "We've been through a tough stretch lately but they show up and they're so loud and passionate. It means a lot to us, gives us that extra edge, that boost and makes us so excited to win games in the future and be a playoff team and bring this crowd into the building every single night."
So just like that, nearly three weeks of misery have been replaced with two consecutive full-marks victories to get the Sabres' record to 9-11 through 20 games. Buffalo defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, out for a month with a knee injury, returned in Montreal and has instantly provided the stability that had been missing on the backline.
Skinner's goals were signature plays. His strong edgework got him in position near the goal line just a few seconds after the opening faceoff and Skinner seemed to surprise Blues goalie Jordan Binnington with his shot. Skinner scored again at 13:01 of the second period, undressing St. Louis defenseman Justin Faulk and burning Binnington with a backhand.
Rasmus Dahlin scored after 35 seconds Tuesday in Montreal, and the Skinner tally gave the Sabres goals in the opening minute of consecutive games for the first time since 2006 and just the third time in franchise history.
Cozens gave Buffalo the lead for good at 2:53 of the second on a Vinnie Hinostroza feed and Victor Olofsson's power-play one-timer off an Owen Power feed made it 3-1 at 5:57. Quinn added the Sabres' final two goals in the third period, the capper coming off a scintillating deke with 1:17 left.
Here are more observations on the night:
1. In the net
With Eric Comrie dealing with a knee injury that should keep him out for several weeks, Luukkonen has his first real career chance to grab the top job. He was pedestrian in Saturday's 5-2 loss at Toronto but was spectacular Wednesday, staying calm in his crease and tracking the puck through all manner of traffic.
Several of Luukkonen's 34 saves even brought cries of "Luuuuuuuke" from the crowd, with a third-period glove snipe of a Calle Rosen wrister among the most notable.
"Everybody starts to find their confidence again, and you're gonna see it and how we play as team, too," Luukkonen said. "I feel like everybody is kind of finding their own game first and that builds up as a team. We've been really, really solid for the past two games."
"He made some big saves at big moments," Skinner said. "I think that's what you need. They had some power plays, they were working around pretty well. And when we needed that save he made it, and I think didn't give them any rebounds."
2. By the numbers
• Two wins with Samuelsson back in the lineup and the Sabres have outscored their two opponents, 13-4. Samuelsson played 19:28 on Wednesday and was plus-2, registering a game-high five hits. He played 2:41 on the penalty kill, which is 8 for 9 the last two games after running at just 60% during the eight-game losing streak.
• Another strong game for the line of Quinn, Cozens and JJ Peterka. Quinn had 11 shots attempts (four on goal), Cozens had six shots on goal and Peterka was plus-3.
• A 2-for-3 night puts the Sabres power play at 6 for 13 over the last three games after it cratered with a 1-for-8 night last week in Ottawa.
3. More on injuries
Rasmus Asplund missed the game with an upper-body injury suffered in Montreal and was replaced in the lineup by Peyton Krebs. But Granato said Asplund is day-to-day and was nearly able to make this one.
"He probably could have played but you know with the style we need him to play, he's better off (sitting out)," Granato said. "I held him out after talking to the medical team. I think he was hungry and wanting to play but another day or two will help him significantly."
Defenseman Jacob Bryson was not on the bench and did not play in the third period. There was no immediate word on his absence. Granato said pregame that captain Kyle Okposo (lower body) continues to skate on his own and improve and is just about ready to return to practice. The Sabres' next practice is Saturday.
3. Sights and Sounds from '90s Night
• Sabretooth rappelled from the rafters just like the old days. Personal goal songs were suspended for the night. It was back to the '90s siren and the "Woo-Hoo" after goals.
• The fans did the Wave. It's passe these days, but you have to allow it as part of the throwback decade.
• There was a Backstreet Boys sing-a-long to the 1999 hit "I Want It That Way." The music started but it stopped when the puck was dropped. No matter, the fans continued the chorus through the play and even applauded themselves when they were done. Celine Dion got some love in the third period as did "Jump Around." And the nightly "Friends in Low Places" ode to Garth Brooks made even more sense, given that it was released in 1990.
It was all much like the scene every night in St. Louis, where Blues fans do an a cappella version of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
The Sabres were off on Thanksgiving. Friday's game against the Devils comes against a team that saw its 13-game losing streak end Wednesday night in Newark with a 3-2 loss to Toronto. It was the longest in the NHL this season. Faceoff for the Black Friday game is a special time of 8:05.