Devon Levi was a difference-maker Friday. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Goalie Devon Levi stars in Sabres’ tight win over Wild: ‘A hell of a gut-check’

BUFFALO – At some point in Friday’s tight 3-2 win, Sabres goalie Devon Levi said the heck with it and dropped the technical aspect of his game.

The contest had become so scrambly, Levi decided it would be better to simply battle to stop the Minnesota Wild from scoring.

“Just kind of tried to keep the puck out of the net,” he said after making a season-high 33 saves.

Levi, 21, was a difference-maker Friday, keeping the Sabres in the game as the Wild outplayed them early. As they clung to a one-goal lead with about 2:40 left in the third period, the rookie made a massive save, a point-blank stop on Wild star Kirill Kaprizov.

“I remember just seeing him in the slot with the puck,” said Levi, who made 25 saves in the first two periods. “I don’t know how it got there, but then again, it was just a reactionary save. I think my butt may have been touching the ground. Just trying to close the five-hole.”

The Sabres then closed out the game, earning their second win in three tries (2-0-1).

“There’s just a lot of calm in our game,” Sabres center Tage Thompson said. “Regardless of the score, there’s no real panic, frustration. I thought tonight was a perfect example of that. Obviously, 3-2 with a few minutes left in the game, I though we were pretty rock solid in the D-zone, no running around.”

Sabres wingers JJ Peterka and Jeff Skinner each recorded one goal and two points. Defenseman Henri Jokiharju scored their other goal.

With the game tied at 1, Peterka sent Skinner on his way for a breakaway goal that put the Sabres up 19:02 into the second period.

Peterka made it a two-goal lead 3:33 into the third period, driving to the net and connecting on Thompson’s nifty pass.

Joel Eriksson Ek’s power-play goal got the Wild back within one goal.

As they evolve, the Sabres, who play a road game tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins, have found different ways to win.

On Friday before a crowd of 17,031 fans in KeyBank Center, they did it when they hardly had their best much of the night.

“Hopefully finding a way to win is going to become a typical way, because we needed to find a way to win tonight,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought specifically … the determination elevated in the third period, you saw it down the stretch.

“I thought JJ Had a really big goal, Tommer made a nice play on that. It’s down to 20 minutes and we had to find more, more within. And Devon played very well obviously to do that and that’s what good goaltenders do and good goaltending does, and it worked out. I thought it was, in the end, a hell of a gut-check for our guys and they pushed through.”

Peterka’s goal and Jokiharju’s, a shot from the point, illustrate how the Sabres’ offense has evolved.

“Last year, maybe we took a lot of teams by surprise or they took us lightly coming in,” Thompson said. “Now, I think every team knows what they’re expecting when they come in. That means it’s a bigger challenge for us finding new ways to score, produce offense. I think our group’s been pretty good at adapting to find new ways to score.

“Obviously, you see that last goal, JJ drives the net to score. The first one, just getting bodies to the net, traffic, shot from the point.”

Sabres rookie Matt Savoie, 19, made his NHL debut, skating just 3 minutes, 55 seconds, mostly at right wing alongside center Peyton Krebs and Lukas Rousek. Savoie, the ninth overall pick in 2022, can play nine games before the first year of his entry-level contract kicks in.

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