BUFFALO – On the Sabres bench, they were all wondering what Marcus Foligno would do with his second-period penalty shot Friday, coach Dan Bylsma said.
The hulking winger possesses a lethal shot, yet he rarely utilizes it. From watching him up close in practice for months, Bylsma has learned Foligno has a tendency to deke.
So as he roared in at 17:41, Bylsma must’ve been mildly surprised to see him unleash a wicked wrist shot high over Montreal Canadiens goalie Mike Condon’s glove, Foligno’s second goal – the game winner – and career-high third point in the Sabres’ rollicking 6-4 victory inside a noisy First Niagara Center.
“I just thought, ‘Get it over his glove,’” Foligno said after the Sabres ended their four-game losing streak. “That’s just something I’ve done before in practice and with the ice like that in the second … you don’t want to stickhandle.”
Foligno celebrated by zooming by the left boards and imploring the bipartisan crowd of 18,505 fans to make noise.
“A great shot coming in going over his glove,” Bylsma said.
In the modern NHL, where goals are usually at a premium, games like the Sabres’ 10th home win all season and first in four tries have become a rarity. The Sabres don’t score many goals or provide much entertainment for the home fans.
So for one of the few times all season, the First Niagara Center buzzed as the Sabres held on late for their first win here since Jan. 16.
Naturally, the players and even Bylsma fed off the energy. After the Canadiens opened the scoring 3:44 into the game, he wanted to silence the thousands of Habs fans.
“You noticed the different atmosphere with the number of Montreal fans,” Bylsma said. “I kind of felt that with them scoring the first goal. That didn’t feel so good with fans cheering in your building that way. I know it spurred me on. I didn’t want to have that happen again.”
The Sabres’ 22nd win this season, while far from pretty, felt good. They nearly blew a 4-1 lead, however.
“It’s exciting back and forth hockey, but that’s not the way we want to play, that’s not the way we’re built to win hockey games,” said Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges, who scored his second goal. “We’re not a run-and-gun team. We don’t want to exchange chances with team. That said, we’ll take it.”
The Sabres will take it because they’ve played so poorly recently. Following shootout and overtime losses to Boston last week, they imploded, losing 5-1 on Thursday in Philadelphia and 7-4 on Tuesday at home to Florida.
While sloppy games like Friday’s can be tough to coach, Bylsma believes “there’s always enjoyment in winning a game.”
The Sabres held on for dear life late, spending most of the third period fending off the Canadiens.
“This group, we’ve gotten away in the last two games from where we need to play and how to play,” he said. “We’ve played some hard-fought games and not gotten a win. It might not be the prettiest game. It certainly wasn’t a Picasso. In the third there as well, we got some tense moments but battled hard for the win.”
Evander Kane’s empty-netter, his second goal of the night and sixth in the last seven contests, sealed the game.
Foligno assisted on Kane’s first goal, the go-ahead score late in the first period after David Legwand scored on a partial breakaway.
After Gorges scored early in a dizzying second period, ending goalie Ben Scrivens’ night, Foligno netted his first goal, converting Phil Varone’s pass in front.
Four seasons ago, when Foligno roared into NHL performing like an elite power forward, games like Friday’s figured to be a regular occurrence. But Foligno has struggled for years, only showcasing glimpses of his slick and powerful talents.
“What he can be,” Bylsma said. “He’s a hard guy to play against. He’s tough to handle if he’s skating and playing strong. They’re both great examples of that, but the first goal’s a great example of him being a big body and Phil Varone making a nice play getting the puck there for him.”
Foligno, who had his sixth two-goal game, wasn’t sure what to do after Alex Galchenyuk hauled him down.
“Excitement and a lot of kind of thinking about what to do,” he said. “I think in the penalty shot you don’t have much time to think about it. You’re up next and you’ve got to go and it’s only you. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s fun pressure and it was great to score that one.”
Sabres winger Justin Bailey, a Williamsville native, made his home debut, skating 13 minutes, 44 seconds, mostly beside center Jack Eichel and Jamie McGinn. Bailey created Gorges’ goal, although he wasn’t rewarded with an assist.