Casey Mittelstadt scores the shootout-winning goal Sunday on Carolina goalie Spencer Martin. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Casey Mittelstadt, UPL lead Sabres to emotional win over Hurricanes

BUFFALO – Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt smiled and laughed. You see, he stole the slick move he utilized to score the shootout winner in Sunday’s thrilling 3-2 victory from teammate Owen Power.

As luck would have it, Power, who tied the game late in regulation, went ahead of him. In stopping the defenseman and two other Sabres, Mittelstadt noticed Carolina Hurricanes goalie Spencer Martin kept coming out of the crease to challenge shooters.

So armed with that information, Mittelstadt skated through the right circle and faked a shot when he hit the inside of the slot.

“Just tried to make him move laterally, and I think I felt like I outwaited him and had a little net to shoot at it,” Mittelstadt said of the shootout’s only goal.

Goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen secured just the Sabres’ fourth win over the Hurricanes in their last 19 tries (4-11-4) by stopping star Sebastian Aho in the bottom of the fourth round.

The emotional triumph, the Sabres’ fifth in their last seven outings, holds plenty of significance.

It took more than four months and 58 games, but the Sabres have their first three-game winning streak this season. In eking out three one-goal triumphs, they’ve reached .500 (27-27-4) for the first time since Nov. 27.

On Sunday, the crowd of 15,690 fans in KeyBank Center grew louder and louder as calls went against the Sabres and the home team bounced back.

After defenseman Rasmus Dahlin went off for goalie interference and fans howled in disgust, Martin Necas’ power-play goal put Carolina up 2-1 14:42 into the third period.

Coach Don Granato said the questionable penalty ticked off the Sabres.

“To that point, we were fairly steady, and with the very least traded chances,” he said. “… We needed a little bit more jam and compete. And I think that it incited us a bit.”

Power, who returned from an upper-body injury, tied the game at 15:55, converting center Peyton Krebs’ nifty feed from beside the net in the slot.

“What a play by Krebsy, and nice finish by OP,” Mittelstadt said. “So, yeah, definitely fired us up. I love that we fought.”

Dahlin said: “We’re not forcing anything. We’re playing as a team right now.”

The Sabres seem to be getting better at managing the highs and lows. They’ve trailed in each game during their three-game streak. On Sunday and in Wednesday’s 3-2 road win over the Montreal Canadiens, they erased two one-goal deficits.

“It’s not always good to ride the roller coaster of emotions,” Mittelstadt said.

Of course, Luukkonen has instilled loads of confidence in the Sabres.

How dynamically has the Finn performed? Since Dec. 30, he has compiled an 11-6-0 mark with league 1.77 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. The latter two numbers lead the NHL during that stretch.

Since Jan. 1, the Sabres have allowed a league-low 43 goals. They’re 12-8-0 over the stretch.

“It’s been awesome,” Mittelstadt said of what Luukkonen’s emergence has done for the team. “I think we’re all extremely happy for him. We’ve seen how hard he works and how hard he fights, obviously, in practice and just in general, the kind of person he is. I think I speak for everyone when we say we absolutely love playing in front of him.”

Luukkonen, who made 30 saves, became the first Sabres goalie to stop four or more shootout attempts and not allow a goal since Jhonas Enroth on Nov. 29, 2014.

Winger Jeff Skinner scored the Sabres’ other goal, a power-play tally 6:27 into the second period. Skinner, whose 19 goals are tied with winger JJ Peterka for the team lead, enjoyed one of his best games all season, pumping five shots on net.

“He was active,” Granato said of Skinner. “He was aggressive, assertive. Hunting pucks, hounding pucks. When he’s engaged, emotionally engaged, you see how talented he is.”

Dahlin, meanwhile, showcased his talents longer than ever. He skated a career-high 31 minutes, 43 seconds. It marked the sixth straight game he has skated more than 29 minutes, the longest stretch since Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson did it in seven consecutive games from Feb. 25 to March 8, 2016.

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