Devon Levi helps Sabres secure 6-1 win in 'special' homecoming


Staff member

Devon Levi snared the shot with his glove and dramatically pulled the puck toward his chest to protect the Buffalo Sabres' four-goal lead in the third period Thursday night.

Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield skated away with a scowl on his face. Levi slowly turned toward his net, then took a sip from his water bottle as the official removed the puck from his glove.

Cheers erupted in Bell Centre, the building where Levi was once a kid in the crowd marveling over the windmill glove saves of longtime Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
“It was so much fun,” Levi said, beaming at his dressing-room stall.

Levi did his best Price impression with family, friends and supporters in the crowd. There were so many people there to see him that teammates joked that Levi had 200 fans watching as he made 32 saves in a 6-1 win over the Canadiens on Thursday night.

His series of saves in the first period bought time for the Sabres to wear down the Canadiens. Levi kept Buffalo in the lead with his stop on Josh Anderson late in the second period. And when Montreal could have tied it early in the third, Levi was there to prevent Caufield from sliding the puck between his legs.

Levi's dominant third period ensured the latest chapter in his young career would have a storybook finish. Jack Quinn and Tage Thompson scored less than two minutes apart to spark a four-goal third period for the Sabres.

“Game 1 in Montreal for him, it set the bar high, for sure,” Casey Mittelstadt said with a grin after he had a goal and an assist. “He was awesome. Absolutely awesome. Super happy for him. I think he had over a 100 people here, so good for him.”

Six Sabres had multiple points, led by Jeff Skinner's goal and three assists. Quinn increased Buffalo’s lead to 3-1 with his shot off the post and in early in the third period; Thompson had two goals and an assist; Rasmus Dahlin added an empty-net goal; and Alex Tuch had a pair of assists. Buffalo had 38 shots on net, scored twice on the power play to break out of a slump and blanked Montreal in the third period.

Head coach Don Granato wasn't satisfied, though. His players made some of the same mistakes that caused the Sabres to sink to 27th in the NHL. Their play in the defensive zone made the night more challenging for Levi than it needed to be. The 22-year-old goalie faced 13 high-danger scoring chances between the first and third periods, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Canadiens winger Joel Armia had a goal disallowed early in the second period because of a video review, and he cut Buffalo's lead to 2-1 when he scored after taking the puck away from Dahlin during a Sabres power play.

"The goal is a mistake by me," Dahlin said. "It will happen again. I’m just happy we won."

An NHL’s player’s first game in his hometown can be nerve-wracking. Dahlin recalled the roller coaster of emotions he experienced when the Sabres had two games in Sweden in 2019. Levi grew up 20 minutes from Bell Centre in Dollard-des-Ormeaux. He wore a replica of Ken Dryden's mask while playing street hockey. Levi knelt on the Bell Centre ice for 20 minutes after the Sabres' morning skate Thursday. He wanted to relish the moment.

Some of Levi's supporters gathered behind his net as warmups began. His No. 27 Sabres jersey was worn by several in the crowd. A boy who trains at the same facility as Levi each summer held up a sign that read, “This is the only game I won’t wear a Habs jersey to in our barn.”

Levi was as sharp as he’s been all season. He denied Brendan Gallagher only 1:07 into the game when the Canadiens winger was able to cut across the slot. Levi made a backdoor save on Jesse Ylonen and kept his leg flush to the ice to stop multiple rebound chances. And in the third period, Levi had the spectacular glove save on Caufield's shot from the slot that earned applause from his supporters and Canadiens fans.

“It’s unreal,” Dahlin said of Levi. “He’s such a talented goalie and that’s what you need to win hockey games. He was unbelievable tonight. I’m just so excited for the future, but we need him. He’s playing unreal.”

The Sabres’ offense broke through with Skinner and Mittelstadt scoring power-play goals only 1:26 apart in the third period. And when Levi kept them ahead 2-1 early in the third period, they took over by making smart decisions with the puck. Granato and his staff urged his players to not try to trade rush chances with Montreal. Instead, the Sabres earned their offense by chipping the puck deep and winning 1-on-1 battles.

Buffalo (16-19-4) rebounded from an ugly loss in Ottawa and sent the Canadiens (16-17-5) to their fourth loss in five games.
“To play in that building and beat that team is pretty special,” said Levi, who was the game's first star. “I wouldn’t have liked it to go any other way.”

Here are other observations from the game:

1. Power-play issue

The Sabres broke out of an 0-for-12 slump on the power play with two goals against one of the worst penalty kills in the NHL.

How they scored mattered, though. The Sabres passed the puck down low, then passed across the slot to set up Skinner and Mittelstadt. They need to use that method more often since teams are focused on taking away Thompson.

The short-handed goal bothered Granato, though. It was the seventh allowed by Buffalo this season, tied with Florida and Carolina for the most in the NHL.
"Still did not like the short-handed goal at all," said Granato. "Overextended the shift and still plenty to clean up."

2. Ailing
This was an outstanding game by Tuch under difficult circumstances.

Though Granato did not disclose details, Tuch was dealing with an injury or illness Thursday. He didn't take the morning skate, and the Sabres had Eric Robinson on the ice for warmup in case Tuch wasn't well enough to play.

Tuch pushed through, and he was one of the Sabres' best against the Canadiens. He helped Buffalo go 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, and the Sabres had a 9-0 edge in scoring chances at 5-on-5 with Tuch on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick.

3. Defense pairs

Changes to the defense pairs produced encouraging results.

The Sabres had 70.97% of the 5-on-5 shot attempts when Connor Clifton and Mattias Samuelsson were on the ice; Henri Jokiharju’s conservative approach was a perfect complement to Dahlin; and Erik Johnson had a solid defensive game next to Owen Power.

“We just need to do things differently, period,” said Granato. “It hasn’t been good enough. I don’t care what numbers say. We need better. We are a better team and more capable than we’ve played. We deserve to be where we’re at. Made our own bed. Any change is possible for that.”

4. Next

The Sabres will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in PPG Paints Arena on at 7 p.m. Saturday.