BUFFALO – Following an eight-game absence, Mattias Samuelsson returned to the lineup March 31, and not surprisingly, the Sabres won five out of their next six games.
Samuelsson, 23, has quietly developed into one of the Sabres’ most valuable assets. To wit: they had a splendid 32-18-4 record when the rugged defenseman played and a 9-15-3 mark when he was injured.
If he hadn’t endured a few injuries this season, it’s very possible the Sabres, who finished two points out of the second wild card spot, would’ve cracked the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The 6-foot-4, 231-pound Samuelsson did his best to gut out his injuries. Before the Sabres shut him down for the final two games, he said he was playing with a broken left hand and a sprained MCL.
He suffered the hand injury March 11. He said he played with his MCL injury the last couple games of the season.
“That’s hockey, really,” Samuelsson said Sunday as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings in KeyBank Center. “You kind of expect it, especially the style of game I play. I know I’m going to be pretty banged up and I had a broken hand there at the end. It’s still broken in a couple spots, so shooting the puck wasn’t very fun sometimes, but you’re down the stretch. That’s where you want to be playing. Those are the games that matter and those are the fun times.
“Obviously, I haven’t played playoff hockey in the NHL, but that felt like playoffs or as close as it gets to it. Those are the fun ones, so I was fine with it.”
When Samuelsson hurt his knee in Oct. 22, the Sabres lost eight straight games and endured an awful 3-10-0 stretch while he recovered.