Following an 8-3 loss back on Dec. 17, the Buffalo Sabres fell from eighth to ninth in the Eastern Conference standings. Three months later, they find themselves holding on to a playoff spot for the first time since with six games remaining in the season.
The Sabres rallied from a slow first period to dominate the Minnesota Wild for the remainder of the game en route to a 3-1 victory Saturday at First Niagara Center, allowing them to leapfrog the idle Washington Capitals for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Wild capitalized early in the game after the Sabres appeared flat-footed coming off a win the night before against the New York Rangers. Kyle Brodziak made a swift saucer pass to find Steven Kampfer wide open for the first goal of the game after a turnover by the Sabres.
Minnesota out-shot the Sabres, 16-11, in the first period, but the Sabres came out in the second looking much like the team that had rolled over the first-place Rangers on Friday.
Thomas Vanek scored his first goal after strong forecheck and pass by Hodgson sent the puck in front of the net where Vanek tipped it passed Josh Harding to snap a seven-game goalless streak. The Sabres would go on to out-shoot the Wild, 17-5, in the second period and 29-8 over the final two periods.
Marcus Foligno gave the Sabres the lead 1:45 into the third period off a deflection from a Tyler Myers shot and Cody Hodgson added an open-net goal with one second remaining to give the Sabres a crucial win.
Ryan Miller made 24 saves for his 29th win on the season and the Sabres were perfect on the penalty kill, killing off all seven of the Wild’s chances on the man advantage. The Sabres are on a four-game winning streak for the first time since Lucic laid out Miller in the loss Boston back in November. It was the first time the Wild lost in Buffalo since Nov. 17, 2000.
Sabres fans will now have to root for the Wild as they head to Washington D.C. tomorrow to face the Washington Capitals at 4 p.m. while the Sabres remain idle until Tuesday, when they, too, head to the country’s capital to face Washington for what will be a pivotal game in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
- Marcus Foligno continued his impressive run tonight, scoring a goal for his sixth on the season as the Ennis-Stafford-Foligno line was once again the best the Sabres had to offer. With the goal, Foligno joined some elite company with Teemu Selanne (8), Evgeni Malkin (8), Devin Setoguchi (7), Ilya Kovalchuk (6) and Alex Ovechkin (6) as the only active players with six or more goals in their first nine career games. Foligno now has 10 points in eight games since his recall on March 9.
- Thomas Vanek played his best game in a while, tallying a goal and an assist on three shots. He looked much more like himself than whoever has been playing in his jersey over the past month or so. Vanek and Hodgson continue to complement each other very nicely.
- I said on Twitter than Travis Turnbull got “hammered” during his fight with Nick Johnson. After further review, he DID NOT. Albeit a poor choice of words, he also DID NOT win the bout. There had been MAYBE one punch thrown the entire fight.
- What more can we say about Cody Hodgson? After everyone was getting so worked up over his struggles in his first few games in blue and gold, he’s turning into everything Darcy Regier had hoped when acquiring him at the deadline. Hodgson led the Sabres in shots (7) and had a goal and an assist to give him six points in his last four games. His 19 goals are third among NHL rookies this season.
- I bet you’re all pretty damn glad Regier didn’t trade Derek Roy at the deadline this season. For the second night in a row, Roy led the Sabres in ice time with 22:39. He’s finally playing as the guy we all thought he would be to start the season and, although he failed to reach the scoresheet in this game, he was all over the place, and has been one of the main reasons for the Sabres’ surge to the playoffs.
- Jason Pominville quietly had a nice game once again. He was second behind Hodgson with six shots and finished behind only Roy and Myers nin ice time with 22:04. Say what you will of Pommer, but I think everyone’s finally beginning to see the reason why Ruff gave him the big “C” at the beginning of the season. To cap off his incredible season, it was also announced a few days ago Pominville will be a finalist for the Masterton Trophy, which is given to the NHL player who displays the most dedication and perseverance in hockey over the course of the season. Hats of to Pommer. His role should not be overlooked in the Sabres’ massive turnaround.
- Speaking of overlooked, how about Alexander Sulzer? Don’t look now, but he’s quietly becomming the best trade deadline acquisitions in Regier’s tenure that no one has ever talked about. He’s played just about as good as anyone could ask for beside Christian Ehrhoff, and he had four shots in 15:59 of ice time in the win.
Risers & Fallers:
UP: Hodgson, Roy, Sulzer, Foligno.
DOWN: Regehr, Boyes.
Big Save: Miller on Koivu in the first period.
Big Hit: Sekera on Heatley in the second period.
My Three Stars:
1st Star: Marcus Foligno
2nd Star: Cody Hodgson
3rd Star: Thomas Vanek
You can follow Brandon on Twitter for even more insightful Sabres coverage @B_Schlag.