Sabres overcome Pens and finally forge a two-game winning streak


Staff member

PITTSBURGH – Maybe all the Buffalo Sabres needed was for the calendar to flip to 2024. Hey, maybe pigs really do fly too. This team has actually won two games in a row.

The Sabres improved to 2-0 in the new year by pulling out a pulsating 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night in PPG Paints Arena. Zemgus Girgensons scored the tiebreaking goal with 4:38 to play, and Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen was spectacular in net, making 40 saves.

It is just Buffalo's second two-game winning streak of the season, and its first since it beat Colorado and Philadelphia on Oct. 29 and Nov. 1. Girgensons got the game-winner on a short backhand from in tight after a shot from the left point by Mattias Samuelsson. It capped a shift that featured great work down low by linemates Eric Robinson and Peyton Krebs.

Rasmus Dahlin's empty-netter with 1:36 left, which beat a dive back into the crease by Pens goalie Tristan Jarry, provided breathing room.

"It's a mentality and I've talked about this for weeks now," said Buffalo coach Don Granato. "It's a mojo, swagger and the fact is that we didn't have that and we played with fear. And tonight, you don't come through that game unless you have that swagger and fearlessness."

The win allowed the Sabres to snap their 10-game winless streak in the next game after a victory.

"That feels good," said winger Alex Tuch. whose goal at 2:53 of the first period held up for nearly 45 minutes. "I'm sure I'll see a lot of tweets about it and I think it gives us some confidence, especially against team that's been playing so well (Pittsburgh was 8-2-1 in its last 11). To just play as a 20-man unit and continue to work for each other is something we needed."

"Everything behind us is baggage. It is," Granato said. "You can't bring a loss forward. You're gonna dwell on it, not be in a good spot for the next game. We bring a win forward, you're a little bit too comfortable."

The Sabres nursed Tuch's goal before Rickard Rakell's goal with 12:11 left in the third period tied the game. It came on a deflection of an Erik Karlsson pass, and came with eight seconds left on a two-minute, 5-on-3 advantage after Girgensons was called for slashing and Connor Clifton was nailed with an interference penalty before the Sabres could regain possession of the puck.

Thanks to yeoman's work from Erik Johnson, the Sabres nearly killed off the entire advantage, but the Penguins finally broke through to forge the tie.

For most of the night, the best player on the ice was Luukkonen. The most important personalities in the game, however, were Sabres video coaches Justin White and Matt Smith.

Montreal opened the scoring Thursday in Bell Centre, but the Sabres got that one wiped out on an offside challenge and went on to a 6-1 win. The White-Smith duo was at it again Saturday, going 2 for 2 in the final five minutes of the first period.

The Penguins scored on a Drew O'Connor goal with 4:10 left after a ridiculous back pass from Sidney Crosby, but Crosby was clearly offside entering the zone, and the goal was wiped out.

A tougher call came with 1:05 to go when Jake Guentzel appeared to tip home a Crosby pass from the edge of the crease. But quickly after the goal was scored and while the Pens were still celebrating in front of their bench, Granato confidently came to the front of his bench, summoned the officials over and challenged for goalie interference.

Lo and behold, he was right again. The replay showed Guentzel crossing into the blue paint without being pushed by Dahlin, and then bumping into the Luukkonen as the puck was flying into the net.

"Those guys do a very, very good job in a very short time, and they nailed it tonight within seconds after that," Granato said of his video team, adding that goalie coach Mike Bales also helped on the second call.

"He clips my head there. I feel like everybody can understand that," Luukkonen said of Guentzel. "If somebody hits you in the head, it makes it a little tough."

Here are some other observations on the game:

1. Luukkonen's big night​

The Sabres' goaltender got all three starts against the Pens this season, and has had good success against them. He has a .938 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average in his career vs. Pittsburgh.

In this game, Luukkonen had the Pens' number on breakaways. He stopped each member of the top line on a clear break, foiling Crosby in the first period, and both Guentzel and Rickell in the second period.

Luukkonen was steady in his crease, solid on his positioning and wasn't giving up rebounds. The breakaways, a bugaboo for Luukkonen last year, are an area of improvement this year.

"They were good reads," he said. "It feels good to make those saves in those type of games and those type of situations."

"I think that was most confident, poised I've seen him play his whole career," Tuch said. "A couple goals against ended up going back and he didn't get rattled at all. He went right back in there."

As for the winning streak, Luukkonen was quick to point out the defense helped him and Devon Levi allow just two goals in the two games.
"Devon played well in Montreal and we played well defensively too," Luukkonen said. "There's a lot of positives to take away.

2. The winning goal​

Girgensons, who turned 30 on Friday, got his third goal of the season -- and first since Oct. 24 -- to give the Sabres the win.

The line of Girgensons, Peyton Krebs and Erik Robinson had the Penguins bottled for nearly 40 seconds and Pittsburgh standouts Guentzel, Rakell and Erik Karlsson were all on the ice when the goal was scored.

"It was just simple. 'Robbie' plays simple. Same with 'Krebsie'. Plays hard," Girgensons said "That was just a simple, hard shift, trying to get pucks in and crashing the net and we end up scoring."

3. Next​

The Sabres open a season-high six-game homestand Tuesday night in KeyBank Center against the Seattle Kraken, who are 8-0-2 in their last 10 games. Buffalo's next road game isn't until Jan. 23, when it opens its three-game California trip at Anaheim.