Sabres beat Golden Knights 3-1 in Eichel’s return to Buffalo
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Peyton Krebs and Alex Tuch provided a glimpse of a brighter post-Jack Eichel future on a night Sabres fans booed the team’s former captain in his first appearance back in Buffalo since being traded to the Vegas Golden Knights.
Energizing the largest turnout of the season in Buffalo was cheering on Krebs and Tuch — the two players acquired in the trade — scoring key goals in a 3-1 win.
And making the night more memorable in a season the Sabres are all but assured of missing the playoffs for an NHL-record 11th straight season was Craig Anderson stopping 30 shots to become the 39th NHL goalie to win 300 career games.
“As a team and as an organization, we’ve got to earn back our fans, and that’s a step in the right direction,” said Krebs, who opened the scoring 7:53 into the game and less than a minute after the Sabres showed a video paying tribute to Eichel.
“I want the best for Jack, but that was exciting,” he added. “Me and Tuchy, we’re passionate about playing here in Buffalo. We want to do the best we can for this organization.”
Eichel had a far different take in summing up his return to a rink where he spent six seasons knowing mostly losing.
“Yeah, this is about the loudest I’ve heard this place ever,” Eichel said. “Really. After it took seven years, and me leaving for them to get into the game.”
Once considered the Sabres’ savior after being selected with the second pick in the 2015 draft, Eichel was welcomed with derision each time he stepped on the ice.
It was the 25-year-old’s first game in Buffalo since Feb. 28, 2021, which came eight days before he sustained a herniated disk in a 5-2 loss on Long Island.
How to treat the injury — the Sabres favored fusion surgery while Eichel preferred an artificial disk replacement procedure — led to an eight-month stalemate between the player and the Sabres, which eventually forced his trade. The game against Buffalo was Eichel’s 11th since having the replacement procedure shortly after landing in Vegas in November.
“It’s not an easy game to play in by any means, so I’m not going to stand here and act like it was,” said Eichel, who was limited to two shots on net. “I’m pretty happy it’s over, and move on.”
With the game tied at 1, Victor Olofsson scored the go-ahead goal on the power play with 3:44 remaining. Tuch then sealed the victory by scoring into an empty net.
Buffalo snapped a two-game skid and won for just the third time in nine games. Anderson, from Illinois, became the sixth U.S. goalie to reach the milestone, and is one behind former New York Rangers star Mike Richter.
Anderson was particularly aware of tying former Panthers teammate Tomas Vokoun, who just happens to be his neighbor in Florida.
“We’ve got equal bragging rights around the neighborhood now,” Anderson said with a laugh.
“I’m just fortunate and thankful for each year that I get to play,” said Anderson, who’s on his sixth team since breaking into the NHL with Chicago during the 2002-03 season. “At the end of the day, I’m still having fun. Again, if you do what you love, it’s not work.”
The Sabres paid tribute to Anderson following the game by showing a video in which he was congratulated by former teammates, coaches and family members.
Anderson’s best stop came five minutes into the third period when he held his position to stop Zach Whitecloud’s deflection in front.
Ben Hutton scored for Vegas and Laurent Brossoit stopped 21 shots for Vegas in getting the start in place of Robin Lehner, who was sent home to have a lower-body injury evaluated further. Vegas has lost two straight and dropped to 4-7-1 in its past 12.
Eichel’s presence attracted the largest turnout of the season in Buffalo with an attendance of 12,437.
When fans weren’t cheering on the Sabres, they focused on booing Eichel.
It began during the pregame warmups when he was booed in being the last player off the ice. It continued when he was listed in the starting lineup. And it reached a loud crescendo when Eichel lined up for the opening faceoff, and the boos turned to jeers when he turned over the puck in the neutral zone.
The only cheers Eichel received came during the video tribute when boos turned to applause once officials from Buffalo’s Roswell Park Cancer Center thanked the player for his charitable contributions. Eichel acknowledged the crowd by raising his hand.
“It was a nice tribute. And there was plenty of people here who were supporting me, and plenty of people who were booing,” Eichel said. “They must be booing because they wish I was still here. I don’t know. It is what it is.”
Golden Knights: Coach Pete DeBoer said Lehner’s injury was not related to the one which sidelined the goalie for five games late last month. ... RW Reilly Smith did not play due to an undisclosed injury.
Sabres: D Henri Jokiharju returned after missing six games with a lower-body injury. ... C Rasmus Asplund did not return after sustaining a lower-body injury in the first period.
Golden Knights: Play at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night in the third stop of a four-game road trip.
Sabres: Are the home team in facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL’s outdoor Heritage Classic at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario, on Sunday.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports