BUFFALO – We’d seen contests like Tuesday’s come-from-behind 4-3 victory against the Los Angeles Kings from the Sabres before. They played, oh, about eight of them during their thrilling 10-game winning streak last month.
After a nondescript or subpar opening 40 minutes or so, the Sabres often roar back late and win in overtime or a shootout.
It’s a risky way to win games, for sure, but those type of triumphs briefly elevated them to the top of the NHL.
Then after becoming the darling of the league in November, the Sabres stumbled, losing five straight games (0-3-2). The magic they generated night after night during their best stretch of hockey in years quickly disappeared.
Fresh off Saturday afternoon’s embarrassing 6-2 home loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Sabres trailed the Kings, who played Monday in Detroit, 3-1 after two periods.
“There’s got to be some type of emotional response from the room,” Sabres captain Jack Eichel said. “I think we showed that in the third.”
The Sabres responded by showcasing their November form, quickly erasing the Kings’ lead. Before winger Jeff Skinner’s overtime winner, Eichel’s power-play goal at 3:47 swung the momentum, bringing the crowd of 17,897 inside KeyBank Center back to life.
“We were able to sort of use that momentum and sort of ride that for bit,” Skinner said of Eichel’s goal.
Then center Johan Larsson redirected defenseman Lawrence Pilut’s slap pass, tying it at 7:23. In between the scores, Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian fought Nate Thompson.
“When we made our mind up we wanted to play, you could see the result,” Housley said. “We tie the game up, we draw penalties.”
The Sabres also attacked the Kings, who were down to four defensemen after former Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty and Dion Phaneuf left the game.
“They’re coming off a back-to-back, it’s a big challenge on the road back-to-back,” Skinner said. ‘I think they lost a couple D-men. For us, I think you have to try and come out and have a pushback in the third.”
When Oscar Fantenberg went off for holding with 3.9 second left in regulation, it felt like the Sabres would win.
Sure enough, Skinner scored on the ensuing power play at 1:49, his 21st goal this season and his third overtime winner.
“It was good for them to get on top of this one just to know they could do it again,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said of the win.
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen helped create the goal the four-on-three goal from an unusual place: the front of the net. Ristolainen backhanded Eichel’s rebound in front of goalie Cal Petersen to Skinner, who had a yawning net, on the other side of the crease.
“He did a huge job there and the rebound sort of bounced on my stick,” Skinner said.
The Sabres, of course, were excited to earn their first victory since Nov. 27. Still, they know they’re living dangerously.
“It’s a bit frustrating for our group right now, just the face that after getting beat here at home 6-2, we come out and don’t really play a great first 40 minutes where I don’t think we’re emotionally engaged in the game,” Eichel said.
He added: “We’ve got to start piecing together full games.”
If the Sabres keep getting secondary scoring and contributions from the fourth line of Girgensons, Larsson and Evan Rodrigues, it should boost them. It certainly did Tuesday.
Girgensons, a healthy scratch Saturday, tied the game 13:26 into the first period after forcing a turnover from Doughty and outmuscling him.
In their last four games entering Tuesday, Eichel, Skinner and Sam Reinhart – the Sabres’ first line – scored all of the Sabres’ goals.
Eichel had scored four straight before Girgensons’ third goal this season. Larsson’s goal was his second.
“It’s huge, not only for our team, but for them personally because they’re doing the right things and finally they get rewarded,” Housley said of the secondary scoring.
Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark stopped 23 shots. Meanwhile, Petersen, a former Sabres draft pick, made 43 saves.
Jake Muzzin, Matt Luff and Adrian Kempe scored for the Kings.