Linus Ullmark made 33 saves in his return Saturday afternoon. ©2021, Micheline Veluvolu

Goalie Linus Ullmark looks strong in return, offers Sabres some hope

Following a 15-game absence, Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark acknowledged he felt a little awkward in the beginning of Saturday afternoon’s 3-2 loss.

Then Ullmark, 27, quickly settled in, showcasing his regular strong form while making 33 saves against the Boston Bruins.

“After a couple shots you’re in it, like you never left,” Ullmark said on a Zoom call after the Sabres’ 17th consecutive loss.

The Sabres wish Ullmark, who suffered a lower-body injury Feb. 25, never left the lineup. They imploded without their No. 1 goalie.

Their myriad problems, of course, extend far beyond goaltending. But it’s safe to say if Ullmark had remained healthy, they would’ve won at least a few times over the past month.

“He showed what he can do,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said of Ullmark’s performance Saturday. “I mean, he made a ton of good saves, he was very calm back there and he played great. He’s the type of goalie that can give you a chance to win every night.”

Ullmark has registered a .918 save percentage in 13 outings this season. Of the Swede’s three replacements – Carter Hutton, Jonas Johansson and Dustin Tokarski – only Tokarski has registered a save percentage of .890.

Tokarski looked solid playing behind a porous defense three times earlier last week.

Ullmark will likely carry the load over the final six weeks this season, playing as many games as he can handle.

As Ullmark watched the Sabres fall apart from the sidelines, he said he did not want to rush back into the lineup. He started practicing again Tuesday.

“I have full faith in the medical team and in me, myself and everyone that’s been helping me out during this process, and I knew we’d take all the necessary steps and we’d check off all the boxes that need to be checked off,” he said. “I would come back when I was ready. (Friday) after that practice it felt like I was ready to play.”

Following a strong 40 minutes, the Sabres fell apart late, allowing two third-period goals. Charlie McAvoy and Craig Smith scored for the Bruins, capitalizing after the Sabres showcased some poor defensive awareness.

Still, the Sabres, who have looked downright awful defensively over their marathon skid, have started to clean things up a bit.

“I’m glad he came back (today) because I felt as a progression, we’re starting to give our goaltenders more consistent shots, more consistent plays against,” interim Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I think … there was consistency with what we were denying and consistency with what was allowed much more than we saw maybe two nights ago or two games ago in Pittsburgh.

“I think you guys that watched could kind of sense two games ago it was out of control, (then) a little better control and then (today) again the shots were more of the same, from the same areas, so there’s more consistency. Much easier for a goaltender.”

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