Resilient Sabres stun Pens, earn longest win streak in nine years

How they keep doing it is anyone’s guess, but Phil Housley’s Buffalo Sabres keep finding ways to rally. It’s become such a trend that it’s almost become part of the team’s identity. Monday night’s game in Pittsburgh was another chapter.

Riding the team’s longest win streak since 2012, Buffalo came to PPG Paints Arena to take on the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins and attempt to push the streak to still another milestone. Halfway through the second, however, it looked as if it would come to a screeching halt. Entering the second period tied at one, the Penguins suddenly erupted for three straight goals and took a 4-1 lead. As Marty Biron said on the postgame show, that’s usually when most teams signal to the bus driver, but the Sabres didn’t do that. Instead they roared back with three unanswered of their own and then stunned Pittsburgh in overtime for a 5-4 victory.

Courtesy of a terrific pass from Sam Reinhart, Tage Thompson scored his first goal in a Buffalo uniform to tie the game after Derrick Brassard opened it for Pittsburgh. To quote the great Harry Neale, the goal has to be a 10 psi piano off Thompson’s back. He’s struggled pretty mightily at points this season and it’s nice to see him finally get rewarded. The elation quickly ended, though, as Phil Kessell, Jake Guentzel and Tanner Pearson all scored to make it 4-1 Pittsburgh in almost the blink of an eye.

Unperturbed, however, Buffalo kept fighting away and halved the lead when Zach Bogosian rifled a pass from Jack Eichel past Pittsburgh G Casey DeSmith for his second tally of the year. With less than two minutes left in the second, a point shot from Casey Nelson got past DeSmith after it hit Jack Johnson’s foot and went into his own net, making it a one goal game and giving Nelson his first of the year as well.

The Penguins held tough and kept Buffalo off the board further for the first half of the third. With just under nine minutes left on the clock, Bogosian held in an Evgeni Malkin clear attempt and quickly found Casey Mittelstadt at the left faceoff dot, and the latter did not disappoint, firing a laser into the top left corner that DeSmith never even saw. The game went to overtime, thanks in large part to Buffalo G Carter Hutton, who made an impressive save on the speedy Kessel on a breakway to preserve the tie.

Now as I alluded to in my previous piece, Buffalo captain Jack Eichel has faced some heat for his lack of goal scoring this season, despite his 19 assists that are currently fifth in the NHL. In the extra period, after another turnover from Malkin, Eichel took a pass from Rasmus Ristolainen and fired a shot on DeSmith that the goaltender got a piece of, but not enough. The puck trickled through and across the goal line to put a bow on the comeback and give Buffalo its most remarkable win of the season. The same Neale-ism from earlier can be said about this one for Eichel. It’s just his fifth goal of the season, but that one had to feel extra special. You could tell from his reaction that a plethora of pent up emotion had just been relieved.

Obviously the win is huge as it came after the team was down by three, but it’s notable for a few other reasons as well. It’s the Sabres’ first win in Pittsburgh since 2013 and it gives them their longest winning streak in nearly a decade. The team hasn’t won six consecutive games since the 2009-10 season that ended in a Northeast Division championship. Not to mention that I revile Pittsburgh, so seeing them lose is never a bad thing, especially against Buffalo. The Pens have given WNY hockey fans a lot of trouble over the years, the win is certainly vindicating.

It’s encouraging to see Thompson and Eichel score, but also Bogosian and Nelson. Buffalo has lacked offense contributions from defenders in recent years and it’s good to see them appearing more and more on the score sheet. Shots were an even 40-40 and, despite the high score, both goaltenders were impressive. A spectacular save from Hutton on Kessel in the second period kept the game at 4-1 and prevented the Penguins from icing it. DeSmith was strong in his own right and it would be tough to blame him solely for the loss.

Buffalo returns home from on Wednesday holding its longest win streak in nine years. Philadelphia comes to town for a pre-Thanksgiving soiree at KeyBank Center.

 

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