BUFFALO – For months, Conor Sheary’s performances had mostly been underwhelming.
As the Sabres have played some of their most important games in years, Sheary, 26, has usually been silent, sometimes going weeks without scoring a goal.
No one on the Sabres has played more meaningful NHL games than Sheary. Just four seasons into his NHL career, the diminutive winger has won two Stanley Cups and played 55 playoff contests.
Sooner or later, it felt like Sheary might bust out in a big way. Not surprisingly, it came in Friday’s wildly entertaining 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that traded Sheary here last June.
Sheary scored twice Friday, including the winner 4:11 into the extra session, and added an assist, helping the Sabres end their two-game losing streak.
After Sheary secured only the Sabres’ second win in eight outings by beating goalie Matt Murray from the slot, he got down and one knee and swung his right arm as his teammates mobbed him.
“It’s always fun to play in these games,” Sheary said. “It’s easy to get up for these. You know you want to prove a couple people over there wrong.”
He added: “Just overall, I think I needed to start scoring more, but it was a little bit more special against my old squad.”
Sheary, who also scored a power-play goal in the first period, ended a nine-game goal drought. The UMass product also assisted on defenseman Brandon Montour’s tying goal 17:28 into the third period and provided a valuable screen in front.
After scoring six times in the first 16 games, Sheary, a former 23-goal scorer, went silent. He had scored just three goals his last 40 contests entering Friday.
One of those goals was an empty-netter. So in one night, Sheary beat a goalie as many times as he had since Nov. 10. He hadn’t enjoyed a two-goal game since Oct. 6. He hadn’t compiled a three-point outing since 2016-17.
“He elevated his game,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said.
The 11th-place Sabres, who are teetering on falling out of the playoff race, sorely needed a win. They moved past the idle Florida Panthers and now trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by seven points for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.
The Sabres play a road contest tonight against the Maple Leafs, who beat them 5-3 on Monday in Toronto. Remember, the Sabres haven’t won back-to-back games since Dec. 11 and 13.
For one of the few times in recent weeks, the Sabres looked confident throughout the game. The Penguins outshot them 20-7 in the first period and 33-16 through 40 minutes.
Still, the Sabres kept attacking and led 2-1 late into the second period before Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby scored power-play goals.
Of course, some terrific goaltending from Linus Ullmark, who made 41 saves, helped.
But Friday’s game felt like one of the Sabres’ early-season efforts or one of their victories from their 10-game winning streak.
Somehow, they found a way to eke out a win.
“It shows them that they can still come back again if they stay the course and stick with it,” Housley said. “These guys fought right through to the end.”
Sheary said: “Early on in the season we had that (belief) a little bit more often. I hope tonight’s a reminder of how good of a team we are and how good of a team we can be.”
As the Sabres and the capacity crowd of 17,090 inside KeyBank Center celebrated Sheary’s goal, a review was announced. While a replay showed Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin offside, officials ruled the rookie had possession of the puck as he entered Pittsburgh’s zone long before Sheary scored.
Sabres captain Jack Eichel’s power-play goal opened the scoring, extending his point steak to a season-long seven games. The slick center also hit 70 points, making him the first Sabre to hit the mark since winger Jason Pominville in 2011-12.
Meanwhile, Montour, a puck-mover the Sabres acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, scored and added an assist in his home debut, his first points with his new team.
“He brought a physical element tonight and got rewarded because Conor Sheary was standing in front of the net,” Housley said.