BUFFALO – By the end of Friday’s second period, the Sabres had reached what captain Kyle Okposo acknowledged was a desperate situation.
Most of the season, they haven’t showcased the aggressive style that made their offense so lethal last year. They’ve struggled to score goals and find any consistency.
After 40 minutes against the Penguins, the Sabres trailed 2-0 and were in danger of losing for the fifth time in six outings.
So Okposo said told his teammates during the intermission to start attacking and quit worrying about making mistakes and giving up chances.
Get after it, boys.
“It was desperate,” Okposo said after the Sabres roared back to beat the Penguins 3-2. “We just wanted to play our game. I talked about it before, we just haven’t played our game. It’s just pressure, pressure, pressure, go, go, go. A lot of times when we do that, we stop thinking and a lot of goals end up on the highlight film. That’s what we had for a long time but we haven’t really had that this year.”
Well, they finally had that during Friday’s rollicking third period before a capacity crowd of 19,070 fans in noisy KeyBank Center.
“We were on the attack,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We were aggressive. We wear fearless. We went after them.”
Winger Alex Tuch broke the tie at 17:16, converting linemate Jeff Skinner’s feed in front. Skinner’s power-play goal at 5:13 started the comeback. Okposo’s first goal this season at 10:52, which Pittsburgh defenseman Erik Karlsson deflected into his own net, tied the game.
The Sabres, despite their struggles this season, improved to 9-9-2.
“There’s no time like the present,” Okposo said. “… We’re .500 and we haven’t played our best hockey. I think that bodes well for us if we can just get back to using our legs, because there’s not a lot of teams in this league that can keep up with us when we’re playing like that.”
Tuch said the Sabres can outskate the Penguins “all night when we want to and we put our minds to it.”
“That’s what we did in the third and I didn’t think they could contain us at all,” he said. “It was really good to see. It took all of us tonight.”
Following the game, Granato turned things back to Okposo so he could address the team again.
“It was a leadership move but a collective effort,” Granato said. “We have lots and lots of leaders in the room that took lots of initiative.”
The Sabres, who start a four-game road trip tonight against the New Jersey Devils, finished the game with only 10 forwards.
They dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen again because winger Jordan Greenway missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Then winger Zemgus Girgensons suffered a lower-body injury in the second period.
Granato did not have any updates following the game. He said the Sabres will likely recall a forward from the Rochester Americans. They weighed summoning someone for Friday’s contest.
“We just felt, let’s let this group battle,” he said.
Okposo and center Peyton Krebs, his linemate, battled all night and enjoyed their best outings this season.
Krebs, a scratch last game, got under the Penguins’ skin and nearly fought Kris Letang. He also scrapped with superstar Sidney Crosby during a preseason visit.
“He might be the most hated man in Pittsburgh now,” Tuch joked. “Holy crap, first fighting Sid in preseason and now Letang, I don’t know! What is he going to do (Evgeni) Malkin now? No, you know what, it’s good. It doesn’t always show up on the score sheet when a guy makes a difference.”
Okposo, meanwhile, pumped five shots on goal. Girgensons played with them about half the game.
“That line was certainly elevated,” Granato said.
Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen also elevated his play again, stopping 31 shots in his team-high fifth win and 10th appearance while outdueling counterpart Alex Nedeljkovic.
“Ukko was very, very good,” Granato said. “What I liked most about him being very good is his confidence. He looked extremely confident. I thought our defensemen did a nice job again on the back sides of him.”
Crosby and Lars Eller scored for Pittsburgh.