BUFFALO – Jack Eichel set up a nifty goal to Nick Baptiste shortly after the Sabres fell behind 91 seconds into Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the St. Louis Blues. Evander Kane scored his 20th goal, continuing his torrid stretch. Ryan O’Reilly netted the eventual winner on the power play.
Then goalie Robin Lehner dazzled late, making 16 of his 37 saves in the third period as the Blues blitzed the Sabres.
In the Sabres’ 3-2 triumph inside KeyBank Center, their third straight victory and fourth in five tries, top talent buoyed them, helping end the Blues’ six-game winning streak.
“Those are the guys that have to get it done for us,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
Those guys have all helped carry the Sabres during a busy and critical stretch. Eichel has 17 points in the last 17 games. Kane has eight goals and 14 points in his last 13 outings. O’Reilly has seven points in the last seven games.
Lehner, meanwhile, has morphed into the team’s backbone, compiling a gaudy .935 save percentage in his last 17 appearances.
“He’s been … our most consistent player and our best player,” Bylsma said of Lehner. “He’s making huge saves when things aren’t going well for us. Once we do get a lead, he’s shutting the door.”
The surging Sabres, who haven’t won four consecutive contests all season, get another chance tonight at home against the heavyweight Chicago Blackhawks, the final game before a bye week.
“When you’re playing games that close together, it adds up pretty quickly when you can win three in a row, you can get four of five and add eight points to the column,” Bylsma said. “And it was against a good team, a hot team tonight against St. Louis.”
The Sabres are 0-8-2 in their last 10 games against the Blackhawks. But, hey, they were 0-8-1 in their last nine meetings with the Blues. Sooner or later, streaks must end.
Early on, when Vladimir Tarasenko scored on a delayed penalty, it looked like the Blues might continue their long run against the Sabres.
“We took a deep breath,” O’Reilly said. “We said, ‘OK, let’s just get back, find our forecheck, find our legs, start simplifying a bit more.’ … Once we can do that and the instincts take over and get into the system, that’s when you start to generate chances.”
But Eichel helped the Sabres answer at 9:34, slickly feeding Baptiste, who was recalled Saturday morning, allowing the rookie to zoom in and put a backhander between St. Louis goalie Jake Allen’s legs.
Then Kane continued the Sabres’ best goal-scoring stretch in years, this time from the slot, tipping Zach Bogosian’s high shot 11:58 into the second period.
Kane scored 20 goals in 67 games last season. He needed only 47 games to hit the symbolic number this campaign.
“I’m not interested in the 20-goal mark, to be honest,” Kane said. “I’d like to go past that.”
Kane probably will push for 30. He didn’t score his first goal until Dec. 3, his 13th appearance after four broken ribs sidelined him three weeks. Incredibly, Kane has 19 even-strength goals.
“The even-strength goals say it all,” Bylsma said. “It’s hard to score in this league. It’s hard to get even-strength goals in this league, and he’s leading the league since Dec. 1.
“It hasn’t been just him and his shot coming down the wing. He’s got a lot of different ways and a lot of tough ways. A goal at the net, a tip-in goal.”
O’Reilly followed 19:28 into the second period, scoring from the right circle on a two-man advantage.
“It’s a five-on-three goal, so there’s opportunities out there for everyone,” Bylsma said. “But that one had the feel of him taking it and I’m putting this one in the back of the net.”
When the period ended, the capacity crowd of 19,070 roared in approval.
Then Lehner was the Sabres’ best player late. Only Scottie Upshall’s short-handed breakaway beat him in the third period.
“We’re playing one of the best hockey clubs in the NHL,” Lehner said. “They’re going to have chances, they’re going to have shots, it’s a big hockey team over there. I think we played a hell of a game.”
Remember, Lehner passionately called out teammates – and later, himself – following last Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver. The Sabres haven’t lost since.
#ROR makes everything look so easy.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 18, 2017