Henri Jokiharju's first career game-winning goal lifts Sabres over Minnesota


Staff member

Henri Jokiharju, overtime goal-scoring threat. Who knew?

Apparently, Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato.

“He has some really good offensive instincts and you see it in practice,” Granato said.

But it wasn’t until Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild that Jokiharju had showed those skills in game-winning fashion.

In his 319th career game, Jokiharju scored his first game-winning goal, lifting the Sabres to a 3-2 come-from-behind overtime victory over the Wild.

Jokiharju’s one-timer from the high slot beat Wild goalie Filip Gustavsson 1:29 into the extra session at Xcel Energy Center.

“Usually, 5-on-5 through the regular 60 minutes of a game, he’s so responsible and focused on defense that you don’t get to see some of his offensive touch, but that was a nice play,” Granato said.

In overtime, Minnesota won the draw and held possession for the first minute, but didn’t threaten with a scoring chance. Once the Sabres gained the puck, they didn’t give it up. But they came close. Jokiharju was along the half-wall in the Wild zone when he was checked by Matt Boldy and lost his balance, but not the puck.

Did Jokiharju’s mind race about losing the puck?

“A little bit, but not too much because I knew they were tired and we had fresh guys out there,” he said.

Jokiharju flipped it back to Alex Tuch, who charged along the wall.

“I saw the opportunity to get below one of their guys and take it to the next and maybe cause some chaos,” Tuch told The Buffalo News.

As Tuch surveyed his options, Jokiharju retreated through the circle and into the high slot.

Pass by Tuch.

One-timer by Jokiharju.

“I just found the open spot in the slot and stayed there,” he said.

Win for the Sabres.

The Sabres forced overtime on center Dylan Cozens’ goal with 31 seconds left in regulation.

“I don’t think anybody was really in sync,” Granato said. “We had some guys who had some heavy legs. But the battle was there. That’s what I liked the most.”

Here are five observations from the game:

Homecoming, Part 1​

A pro since the 2017-18 season, this wasn’t Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt’s first visit back to play his home state Wild, but it remains a cool experience.

“For sure,” he said. “I have a lot of good memories in this building and it brings me back to my childhood. It was definitely special in warmups – you take a second to look around and realize this is the rink I came to as a kid to watch the Wild play.”

Mittelstadt, who grew up in suburban Eden Prairie, opened the scoring with his 13th goal of the season. Behind his goal line, Jokiharju played the puck up the boards and Wild defenseman Jacob Middleton couldn’t collect it.

Mittelstadt retrieved it in the neutral zone and had a 2-on-1 with Cozens against Wild defenseman Brock Faber. Shoot or pass? Maybe Gustavsson was expecting the cross-ice feed to Cozens.

“I thought I was going to Cozens, too,” Mittelstadt said. “Hopefully that got (Gustavsson distracted) a little bit.”

Mittelstadt ripped a wrist shot under Gustavsson’s right arm 39 seconds into the third.

Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen defends against a shot attempt by Wild winger Frederick Gaudreau during the first period on Saturday.
Abbie Parr, Associated Press

Short-lived lead​

The Sabres’ lead lasted less than four minutes. Defenseman Connor Clifton’s tough go of a final period started when he tried to play the puck around Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov. But the puck went into Kaprizov’s belly and he picked up the deflection just outside the Sabres’ zone.

Clifton did well to recover and Kaprizov didn’t get a shot on goal, but was able to shove the puck backward for charging center Joel Eriksson Ek to score past a sprawling Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen at 4:02 of the third.

At 7:37 of third, Clifton was sent off with a double-minor penalty for high-sticking Middleton. The Sabres – led mostly by the forward duos of Cozens-Jordan Greenway and Tuch-Zach Benson – nearly killed off the entire four minutes.

Cozens won the draw to the right of Luukkonen, but the puck deflected off the left knee of linesman Jonny Murray. The Wild’s Marcus Johansson fed it back to defenseman Declan Chisholm, whose wrist shot from the point beat Luukkonen with 8:29 remaining. It was Chisholm’s first NHL goal.

“That would have been a shame to lose a game on a draw you actually won and went off a linesman,” Granato said.

The Sabres forced overtime at 19:23 when Tage Thompson’s shot from the point started the sequence. Greenway took two whacks at it and was initially credited with the goal before it was given to Cozens.

Homecoming, Part 2​

Greenway was a second-round pick (No. 50 overall) by Minnesota in 2015 and played parts of six seasons for the Wild, scoring 38 goals in 317 games. He was traded to the Sabres last March.

Saturday was Greenway’s first game back in Minnesota. The Wild played a welcome back video during the first period and he acknowledged the crowd.
Those cheers turned into boos, though, when he was thought to be the tying goal-scorer.

“A little weird, right?” Greenway said of the cheers-to-boos. “The tribute video, the fans showed a tremendous amount of … they just made it special for me. It was nice to come back.”

UPL’s standard​

Luukkonen was a pregame scratch Thursday against Florida because of an injury, but he told The News he was confident he would return to play the Wild.
“No problems,” he said.

Luukkonen played like it. Since Dec. 30, he has a 7-5 record and has allowed a total of 19 goals. During the Sabres’ offensive snooze to begin the game and the entire second period, he kept his team in the game. In all, he stopped 30 of 32 shots.

“I felt fine,” Luukkonen said. “I think we played well. No means was it a perfect game. We stuck with it, we battled through the first two (periods) and defensively, I think we did a good job.”


The Sabres return home to host Anaheim at 12:30 p.m. Monday. The Ducks won the teams’ first meeting on Jan. 23 (4-2) and were 3 of 4 on the power play in that game.

The Ducks (19-33-2) allowed a season-high nine goals in a 9-2 loss at Toronto on Saturday. The Maple Leafs went 4 of 5 on the power play.