Zemgus Girgensons, Kyle Okposo help Sabres pull away for 7-2 win over Vegas


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In what could be their final week with the Sabres, Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo helped their teammates spoil the defending Stanley Cup champions' return to Buffalo.

Girgensons' goal late in the second period broke a tie with the Vegas Golden Knights, then Okposo scored on a rebound in the third to help the Sabres pull away for a 7-2 win Saturday night in KeyBank Center.

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens (24) celebrates his shorthanded goal during the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights at KeyBank Center on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Joshua Bessex/Buffalo News

Owen Power gave the Sabres a much-needed insurance goal with 13:34 left in regulation, backing Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who made 22 saves to earn his 19th win of the season. Casey Mittelstadt added a power-play goal later in the third period, and Dylan Cozens scored his second shorthanded goal.

Buffalo (29-28-4) has won five of its last six games and six of its last eight.

Cozens and Jeff Skinner gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead early in the second period with a goal apiece, then Girgensons halted Vegas' rally and put Buffalo ahead late in the second with a shot from the right circle.

The Golden Knights scored twice only 2:42 apart to erase a 2-0 deficit, capped by William Karlsson's one-timer to finish a backdoor chance created by his teammate Jonathan Marchessault. Rookie winger Brendan Brisson started the rally with his power-play goal, a tap-in to finish Nicolas Roy's no-look backhand pass across the slot.

“We blew that lead quick and we knew that we wanted to get that back," said Cozens. "We had a few good shifts there of just pressure and keeping them hemmed in and the crowd got into it and gave us that boost, and we just kept it rolling from there.”

Vegas was without former Sabres captain Jack Eichel, whose knee injury has kept him out of the lineup for 19 games since Jan. 11. The Golden Knights (33-20-7) also lost their captain, Mark Stone, to an upper-body injury.

First period​

  • The Sabres needed only 1:55 to take a 1-0 lead. Mittelstadt pressured Brisson until the puck went to Skinner, who scored from the slot for his 20th goal of the season.
"We all love seeing Skinny score a lot, he gets so fired up and it fires all of us up," said Cozens. "When he’s scoring, he can score from anywhere and it’s fun to watch.”
  • Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch had scoring chances seconds apart, and the Sabres had 58.3 percent of the 5-on-5 shot attempts while their line with Jordan Greenway was on the ice in the first period, according to Natural Stat Trick.
  • Luukkonen stopped Karlsson when the Golden Knights center used a Buffalo turnover to earn a shot from the slot.
  • Golden Knights winger Marchessault had the puck in the left circle with time to pick his spot, but his low shot was stopped with Luukkonen. Then, Marchessault got into a brief jousting match with Buffalo rookie winger Zach Benson.
  • Girgensons' cross-ice pass during a 2-on-1 was broken up by a Vegas defender.
  • The Sabres and Golden Knights had nine shots apiece in the first period, while Buffalo had a 2-1 edge in high-danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
  • It was only the 12th time this season that Buffalo has led at the first intermission.

Second period​

  • Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore couldn't handle a pass near the blue line, then he was stripped of the puck by Cozens, who beat Logan Thompson with a high shot on the shorthanded breakaway to put Buffalo up 2-0 only 54 seconds into the second period.
It was Buffalo's fifth shorthanded goal of the season, and Cozens' 13th goal in 58 games.
"Dylan, specifically, has changed on the PK," said Sabres coach Don Granato. "He is evolving better and better every day on the penalty kill, more comfortable in situations that repeat that he's recognizing faster. Picking up on them and when you do that, you can jump them quicker and you can close out quicker."
  • The Golden Knights needed only 52 seconds to slash to the deficit to 2-1, as Brisson scored on an easy tap-in goal on a no-look, backhand pass by Roy.
  • Vegas tied it with another goal, its second in 2:42, when Karlsson snapped a one-timer from the right circle to finish a cross-ice pass from Marchessault.
  • A scramble around the Golden Knights' net began with Skinner's backhand shot, continued when Okposo set up Rasmus Dahlin near the crease and almost produced a goal. However, Theodore blocked Skinner from finishing a wraparound.
  • The crowd roared in response to Luukkonen's impressive pad save that prevented Matt Amadio from scoring on a backdoor chance with 7:36 left in the second period.
"He’s been huge since January," Girgensons said of Luukkonen. "He’s been the main guy here in the room and when he’s playing well, it gives crazy confidence to the guys up front."
  • Tage Thompson challenged Logan Thompson with a high, backhand shot, then Jordan Greenway hit the far post with an attempt from the left circle.
  • Girgensons gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead with his shot from the right circle 14:46 into the second period. Buffalo winger Eric Robinson forced a turnover, then passed to Girgensons, who skated into the right circle and stickhandled around Alex Pietrangelo to create a shooting lane.
It was Girgensons' seventh goal of the season and third in the past six games.

"That's a big part of the game and it helps you wear on the other team," Granato said of Girgensons' impact on the forecheck. "When Zemgus is going, he puts a lot of pressure on opposing defensemen, going back retrieving pucks. We get extra zone time and they've gotta go 200 feet to get through five games. So, it's really important just puck placements and pressure on the puck. ... He'll chip the puck in himself where it's in a perfect spot where he can pressure. He has a lot of experience at that and is very effective."
  • The Sabres carried a 3-2 lead into the second intermission after they outshot the Golden Knights, 14-9, in the period.

Third period​

  • Okposo's 12th goal of the season gave the Sabres insurance early in the third period. Skinner's initial shot sent the puck bouncing toward Okposo, who whacked it out of mid-air to beat Thompson with 17:40 left in regulation.
  • Power added to the lead with a shot from the right point that leaked through Thompson's five-hole, making it a 5-2 lead for Buffalo with 13:34 remaining in the third period.
  • Vegas defenseman Alec Martinez was called for hooking Tage Thompson as the Sabres center tried to create enough separation for a breakaway.
  • Mittelstadt scored his 14th goal of the season with a wrist shot from the left circle 12:18 into the third period to make it 6-2. Mittelstadt also had his 11th multi-point game of the season, and the Sabres' power play is 5 for 10 over their last four games.
  • Sabres center Peyton Krebs fought Golden Knights winger Ivan Barbashev with 3:20 left in the third period.
  • Cozens scored his second shorthanded goal with a quick backhand shot that went off Logan Thompson's leg pad and in.
“I mean, it’s definitely been a struggle for me this year in the goal-scoring department," said Cozens, who has eight goals and 18 points in his last 19 games. "I feel like I couldn’t get any bounces, so to get a few today, it feels good. Hopefully it can be the start of getting the scoring touch back.”