Alex Tuch scores Saturday’s shootout winner on Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres respond after trades, beat Oilers in overtime and shootout

BUFFALO – The game ended dramatically, with Sabres defenseman Owen Power scoring with 2.0 seconds left in overtime as the capacity crowd implored him to shoot.

The giddy Sabres jumped over the boards to celebrate Saturday afternoon’s much-needed 3-2 triumph over the heavyweight Edmonton Oilers, saluted the fans in KeyBank Center and left the ice.

In the dressing room, players began taking off their equipment. Oilers general manager Ken Holland and some Sabres coaches left the press box.

In the hallway, Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen waited to skate out as one of the game’s three stars for his dazzling 30-save performance.

Then the call came from the NHL. No goal. What remained of the crowd of 19,070 fans howled in disgust.

All overtime goals are reviewed by the league, and Sabres winger Alex Tuch was offside as defenseman Bowen Byram carried the puck into the Edmonton zone.

The teams need to get back on the ice. They had 20 seconds left to play in overtime. Seriously.

“That was a rollercoaster – there’s no other way to explain it – of emotions,” coach Don Granato said following a game in which they overcame an early 2-0 deficit.

Sabres defenseman Jacob Bryson, who scored the tying goal in the third period, said “that was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in a game.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen that before,” said Bryson, who scored his first goal since Nov. 4, 2022. “But I’m glad we stuck together there and still pulled out a win after what happened there. But yeah, it was very weird.”

It was weird, but the unlikely string of events never rattled the Sabres. They returned to the ice, completed overtime and secured the victory again by outscoring the potent Oilers 2-1 in the shootout.

After Sabres center Tage Thompson and Oilers superstar Leon Draisaitl traded goals, Tuch restored the lead. Luukkonen, who stopped their other superstar, Connor McDavid, in the first round, stymied Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to secure the win.

“They didn’t have any problem getting their heads back into the game, and that was the message, ‘Let’s go win. Let’s go win it again,’” Granato said. “And the energy level rose right back up. They’re running a little bit (ticked) off at that point, so use that energy good. I thought they did.”

Luukkonen said “they probably made the right call.”

“Those are the rules and you have to battle through that,” he said. “In the end, we got the two points, so that’s all that matters.”

Luukkonen, who has started 21 of the last 24 games, had no problem finding his groove again.

“I’ve been playing a lot of games and getting into a good flow in a good role,” he said. “There’s no perfect time or anything like that, so you have to kind of refocus and be ready to play a game.”

Early on, the Sabres did not appear ready to play their first game without former captain Kyle Okposo, who was traded to the Florida Panthers prior to Friday’s deadline.

Okposo had been their undisputed leader and the face of the team for years. How would they react with him gone?

Well, Edmonton’s Ryan McLeod scored 29 seconds into the game. Warren Foegele’s short-handed goal at 14:19 made it 2-0.

“We didn’t start as we wanted,” Luukkonen said. “That’s something coming off the trade deadline and maybe mentally it’s not the perfect place to be as a team. Kind of refocusing after getting our feet back under us after the first and kind of sticking with it was a big thing today.”

Granato said in Okposo’s absence, others stepped up. Thompson, who missed Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury, played hobbled and scored a second-period power-play goal. Granato also cited center Dylan Cozens, the Sabres’ best offensive threat all afternoon, and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who played a game-high 28 minutes, 41 seconds.

“Lots of guys attacked the situation and wanted to really elevate, knowing that we need to elevate in the absence of some of the guys that were good players for us,” said Granato, whose team ended the afternoon seven points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.

The Sabres, however, still have their best player, Luukkonen. The Finn performed splendidly again on his 25th birthday, making some critical saves, including a stop with his right pad to thwart McDavid’s short breakaway in the third period.

McDavid entered the day on an absolute tear, having scored two goals and a whopping 29 points during a 13-game point streak. The Sabres held the ultra-slick center pointless.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” Luukkonen said following his first outing against McDavid. “Kind of lucky that he’s that good, so I saw highlights before of what he’s going to do in the shootout. It’s kind of fun to play against. He’s so skillful and so fast.”

Sabres winger JJ Peterka did not play in the final 35:04 of the game.

“You’re shortening the bench,” Granato said. “There’s such a discrepancy I thought between the guys that were going and the guys that were a little more challenged to go in tonight.

Meanwhile, veteran winger Jeff Skinner skated just 9:15, his lowest total this season in a game in which he wasn’t injured.

“He’ll get out of it,” Granato said. “I think he’s got a lot of pride in his game, and he cares and he’ll work his way out of it. There’s no question.”

Notes: Granato said the Sabres plan to discussing naming another alternate captain to join Dahlin and winger Zemgus Girgensons. A new captain hasn’t been named. … Sabres winger Jordan Greenway, who took a high-stick from Dahlin in the face in Thursday’s 4-2 road loss to the Nashville Predators, missed the game. … Center Tyson Jost played his first game with the Sabres since Dec. 27. They recalled him from the Rochester Americans on Friday. … Saturday was the Sabres’ fourth multi-goal comeback win this season. … The Sabres have today off.

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