Rasmus Dahlin had one goal and three points Saturday afternoon. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin plays brilliantly in win; Devon Levi might be starter

BUFFALO – Go ahead, try to pick Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s most impactful play in Saturday afternoon’s thrilling 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

Was it his game-tying power-play score in the second period, his first goal in nearly 11 weeks? His dazzling backhand pass that created center Casey’s Mittelstadt’s tying goal later in the period? Before he dished the puck, he generated highlight footage by zooming down the slot and slickly undressing two defenders.

Or was it Dahlin’s defensive gem that kept the game tied and led to winger Tage Thompson’s winning goal?

Four minutes into the third period, he stymied Martin Necas’ attempt at hitting an open net, quickly moving from the slot to below the left circle and extending his stick.

“That felt really good,” Dahlin said. “Especially when Tommer goes down there and scores. I could’ve been dashed. It was a plus instead.”

Sabres winger Jordan Greenway grabbed the puck and raced down the ice and, at 6:15, Thompson one-timed center Dylan Cozens’ feed past goalie Antti Raanta.

“You watch a guy that everybody thinks is offense, offense,” Sabres coach Don Granato said of Dahlin. “And we’ve been talking a lot this year about how good he’s gotten defensively, how his defensive instincts have just grown.”

Dahlin’s dynamic effort before a crowd of 18,199 fans at KeyBank Center kept the Sabres’ faint playoff hopes alive. While they’ve won six of their last eight games (6-1-1), they haven’t been able to make up much ground.

As of late Saturday afternoon, with four games left, they trailed the Florida Panthers (89 points) by four points for the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot. The New York Islanders also have 89 points.

Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Florida seemed like a back-breaker for the Sabres. But they’ve plowed ahead, winning two straight tight games. On Thursday, they won a 7-6 shootout over the Detroit Red Wings.

For the first time since 2012, they’re entering the final week of the season with a chance to earn a playoff berth.

“It shows our character right now,” Dahlin said of the Sabres bouncing back after Tuesday’s loss. “We’re not out of it. We’ve just got to keep battling. It’s next game, next game. So how hard we battled to the end, it just shows that we really want it and we’ve got to do everything we can.”

Dahlin, one of the NHL’s elite defensemen, was overdue for a terrific performance like Saturday’s. Since late in the winter, he has clearly been playing through injuries that hampered his effectiveness.

“It’s the end of the season, you can’t feel great,” Dahlin said. “But good enough.”

The Swede scored his first goal since Jan. 23, ending a 28-game drought. He also assisted on Mittelstadt’s first-period goal and blocked four shots while playing a game-high 25 minutes, 19 seconds.

He enjoyed his first three-point game since Jan. 7. He scored his 15th goal, becoming the Sabres’ first defenseman to hit that mark since Alexei Zhitnik in 1997-98. His 72 points are the highest total by a Buffalo defender since Phil Housley had 81 in 1989-90.

“He’s the best D in the league,” Sabres defenseman Mattias Samuelsson said. “When you see like a leader and the best D in the league laying out twice in two seconds to block two shots like that in a meaningful game, it means a lot on the bench and to everyone else. So that was huge for us.”

Mittelstadt, who has compiled 11 points in his last seven games, pegged Dahlin’s dish on his second goal as his most impressive moment of the afternoon.

“I was just kind of watching him skate around, then all of a sudden, I was just wide open (at the bottom of the left circle) and he still had the puck somehow,” he said. “… He was pretty special tonight. That was fun to watch.”

Dahlin said: “He’s always at the right spot at the right time. So thanks to him.”

Following the goal, Mittelstadt told Dahlin to take his spot and go first to fist-bump his teammates down the bench.

“That’s all him,” he said. “He can go. He should have probably gone down twice for that.”

Rookie goalie Devon Levi started his third straight game and fourth of his short career because he gave the Sabres the best chance to win.

“We’re in a must-win situation now,” Granato said. “It’s obvious. So it’d be nice to be warm and fuzzy and give a guy a game for development reasons. He’s in there because he’s playing well. And that’s good to see, because he was another key factor today.”

Levi made 31 saves.

The Sabres scratched winger Victor Olofsson for the third straight game. Olofsson, who’s healthy, skated in the pregame warm-up. The Swede has scored 26 goals in 73 games this season but has compiled a team-worst minus-26 rating.

They also scratched goalie Eric Comrie, winger Vinnie Hinostroza and defensemen Jacob Bryson and Kale Clague (all healthy). Hinostroza has sat out 10 straight games and 14 of the last 15 games.

Meanwhile, goalie Craig Anderson (upper body) missed his eighth straight game.

Notes: Thompson’s 46th goal this season tied him for the eighth-most in franchise history. … Dahlin has a five-game point streak. … Raanta lost in regulation for the first time since Nov. 12. He went 15-0-2 during that stretch. … Seth Jarvis, Jesper Fast and Sebastian Aho scored for Carolina, which lost in regulation when leading after one period for just the fourth time this season (32-4-4).

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