The Buffalo Sabres picked one of the best teams in the NHL to be the victim of their most impressive rally of the season on a special night at KeyBank Center.
After Matt Moulson opened the scoring in the first, San Jose struck back with four unanswered from Joel Ward, Logan Couture, Melker Karlsson and Joe Pavelski for a 4-1 lead by the third. But, as fans began to boo and flock to the exits, Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo all struck in the span of just 3:28 to bring KeyBank Center back to life and reward those who stuck around. To overtime it went.
Early in the extra period, Buffalo was hindered by two questionable referee decisions. Sharks captain Pavelski inadvertently knocked O’Reilly’s feet from underneath him but no trip was called. Then, on the ensuing rush for Buffalo, play was stopped immediately after Jack Eichel bumped Sharks G Martin Jones after he was shoved by Tomas Hertl, taking a scoring chance away from the team. Jones was dazed slightly but did not need extra attention, making the whistle extra objectionable. But, the referees did not hinder the momentum that Sabres had built.
Less than a minute later, the two speediest Sabres went to work. Eichel cruised up the right-wing boards with the puck and Kane was in tow for a two-on-one against Marc-Edouard Vlasic. A brilliant pass over Vlasic’s stick allowed Kane to roof his second of the night over Jones’ left shoulder to cap off Buffalo’s largest comeback in two seasons. Kane crashed awkwardly into the boards afterward but confirmed he was okay on the postgame show.
The rally occurred on a special night in Buffalo. The Sabres, as part of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone campaign, hosted You Can Play Night on Tuesday. The Sabres and Sharks took the ice for warmups with rainbow tape on their sticks to show the campaign’s message; acceptance.
G Anders Nilsson, largely credited with spurring Buffalo’s involvement in the initiative, was rewarded with the start in the special game. Nilsson has a pride flag painted on the back of his mask in support of gay friends of his who have been persecuted. San Jose had the Swede busy all night and he let in a couple that were not his fault, but the Sabres picked up their netminder and Nilsson finished with 36 saves on 40 shots.
The win makes the Sabres 6-0-1 in their last seven at home and continues the team’s mastery of San Jose. Buffalo is 23-8-4 all-time against the Sharks and 17-1-1 vs. them in Buffalo. It was also Buffalo’s first victory after a three goal deficit since Dec. 27, 2014 against the Islanders.
For obvious reasons, this is a win that Buffalo can take lots away from. After all, rallying from a three goal deficit to defeat the fifth-best team in the NHL is no small feat.