Zacha scores 1:17 into OT in Devils’ 4-3 win win over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Pavel Zacha converted Jesper Bratt’s drop pass to score 1:17 into overtime and the New Jersey Devils rallied from a pair of one-goal deficits to beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Thursday night.
The Devils snapped a three-game skid by beating an injury-depleted Sabres opponent.
Buffalo opened minus captain Jack Eichel, who was scratched after testing a lower-body injury during the pregame skate. And the Sabres then lost starting goalie Linus Ullmark, who was sidelined with a lower-body injury after stopping all 15 shots he faced in the first period.
Bratt, Miles Wood and Nico Hischier also scored for the Devils, and Mackenzie Blackwood stopped 29 shots. Zacha had two assists to extend his points streak to eight games in which he has three goals and seven assists.
The Devils bounced back following a 4-1 loss at home to the Sabres on Tuesday.
Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart forced overtime by tipping in Taylor Hall’s centering pass for a power-play goal with 4:30 remaining.
“This was a very important game for us to win. I think we outworked them today,” Zacha said. “We knew we had to get two guys to the net. It was what we didn’t do in the game before and it was just easy shots for their goalie. We got better at that.”
Casey Mittlestadt and Riley Sheahan also scored for the Sabres, who dropped to 2-5-1 in their past eight, with both wins coming against New Jersey. Carter Hutton stopped 25 shots in relief of Ullmark.
Without being specific, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said Eichel’s injury developed during the warmup and was not related to him missing the morning skate earlier in the day. “It definitely caught us all by surprise. The first diagnosis on it is day to day,” Krueger said.
As for Ullmark, the coach said more tests are required to determine the severity of the injury.
Ullmark was shaken up during an intense Devils’ scramble in front, which ended with the goalie reaching out to glove Hischier’s snap shot from the high slot six minutes in. Ullmark was slow to get up and eventually tended to by Buffalo’s medical staff before being cleared to continue playing.
The decisive goal came with Bratt gaining the Sabres zone and dropping a pass back to Zacha, who was trailing. Zacha then leaned into a snapshot from the right circle to beat Hutton inside the far post.
With Buffalo up 2-1, the game’s complexion turned 2:58 into the third period when Hall was penalized for high-sticking Wood while battling for the puck in the Devils corner.
Wood tied it 1:27 later by sweeping in a loose puck at the right post, and after Nikta Gusev’s pass through the middle was blocked.
Hischier scored the go-ahead goal 20 seconds after Hall’s second penalty expired courtesy of another fortunate bounce. Zacha’s centering pass deflected off the skate of Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour and directly to Hischier at the right post, where he swept the puck in under a pile of bodies.
“We knew we needed a momentum change. We knew that we needed at least one goal. We were talking about trying to get two, but to get the one by Woody was a big goal,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “It put the momentum in the right place.”
Krueger wasn’t too down on the Sabres’ performance given their depleted roster, which is also missing three key defensemen, including Rasmus Ristolainen, who has resumed skating after a two-week bout with COVID-19.
“I think under all the circumstances I’m really proud of the group being able to get us into overtime,” Krueger said. “I am proud of the effort and the work that was put into the game although we did have some breakdowns that we need to address.”
Eric Staal set up Mittelstadt’s goal to pick up his 1,029th career point to move one ahead of former New York Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch into 81st on the NHL list.
SKINNER STILL SCRATCHED
Don’t tell Krueger high-priced forward Jeff Skinner is in the doghouse after being scratched for third consecutive game.
“Number one, I don’t have a doghouse, I don’t know really what that is,” Krueger said following a pre-game skate in which Skinner worked with the team’s taxi squad.
Krueger then declined to go into detail the reason behind his decision regarding Skinner, who hasn’t score in 18 consecutive games dating to last season, and in the second year of an eight-year, $72 million contract.
“I’d love to share everything at all times with everybody ... but there are certain things that evolve in the development of a team or an organization or a group behind the scenes,” Krueger said. “Every decision is made for the whole, for the group.”
Krueger later said, “No” when asked if Skinner was being benched for disciplinary reasons.
Devils: Return home for two-game series against the Washington Capitals starting on Saturday.
Sabres: Host the Philadelphia Flyers for two-game series starting on Saturday.
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