Eichel scores in OT to give Sabres 2-1 win over Blue Jackets
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Two days after smashing his stick in frustration, Sabres captain Jack Eichel held his arms up in celebration.
Eichel scored 36 seconds into overtime to secure Buffalo’s 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. At the other end end of the ice, goalie Carter Hutton was being mobbed by his teammates for snapping an 0-8-4 skid and earning his first win since Oct. 22.
There was much for the Sabres to finally feel good about at the end of a tough week. They’d returned from their bye week and played a pair of duds at home, and they were booed off the ice. Critics angrily voiced their disappointment on local radio and social media over a team in jeopardy of extending the NHL’s longest active playoff drought to a ninth consecutive season.
Not only did the Sabres snap a three-game skid Saturday, they defeated a Columbus team that had won six straight and entered the day enjoying a 16-2-4 run.
“Everyone knows what’s going on,” said Hutton, who allowed one goal on 23 shots. “We’re not stupid. The outside and the pressure that comes with the situation we’re in, so it was a big answer.”
As for finally enjoying a win, Hutton said: “Yeah, it’s nice. It’s obviously a good thing. This is a team sport here and it’s good to know that you’re well liked, the guys appreciate what I put into this, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.”
It was a big moment of relief for Eichel, too. He smashed his stick on the Buffalo net after Montreal sealed a 3-1 win with an empty-net goal on Thursday.
Once Buffalo’s Curtis Lazar won the opening faceoff, Eichel controlled the puck for much of the overtime and scored on a slow-developing end-to-end rush.
Working his way into the left circle of the Blue Jackets’ zone, Eichel reversed and went across the top. Using defender Seth Jones as a screen, he snapped a shot from the right circle, beating rookie Matiss Kivlenieks inside the far post.
“It’s a big win for the group,” Eichel said, deflecting attention from himself. “It was good to see us find a way to get a win.”
Evan Rodrigues also scored for Buffalo, which was counting on this stretch of playing nine of 10 games at home to spur a late-season playoff push. Buffalo (23-22-7) avoided having more regulation losses than wins for the first time this season.
The Blue Jackets (27-16-9) picked up a point in the standings courtesy of Oliver Bjorkstrand’s tying goal 5:45 into the third period. It was his fifth goal in three games since missing 13 with a rib injury.
Kivlenieks stopped 22 shots in the rookie’s second career start. Starter Joonas Korpisalo is expected to miss another few weeks with a knee injury. Coach John Tortorella went with Kivlenieks over the more experienced Elvis Merzlikins, because Kivlenieks spent Columbus’ break getting extra duty in the minors.
Tortorella focused on the positive by taking into account that Columbus was coming off a nine-day break.
“The first period was probably our best forechecking, but you’re not getting me into a negative thought about this game,” Tortorella said, referring to an opening period in which Buffalo scored the lone goal despite managing just five shots. “That’s a huge point for us to start it off the break.”
Bjorkstrand scored from the high slot after teammate Gustav Nyqvist’s centering pass was redirected to him off the stick of Buffalo’s Henri Jokiharju. And it came after Columbus had a goal disallowed late in the second period, when officials ruled Alexander Wennberg directed in a rebound with his skate.
Eichel has been the Sabres’ mainstay this season — and during a 33-game stretch in which he has 23 goals and 23 assists. He leads the team with a career-high 31 goals on the season.
“I think that guy shows it every night,” Hutton said.
“He trains like nobody else. He’s skilled like nobody else. And that’s why he’s one of the best players in the world,” the goalie added. “When he gets that puck on his stick, you never know, he can end it. And that’s what he did tonight.”
NOTES: Sabres RW Kyle Okposo is out indefinitely after an upper-body injury against Montreal. Coach Ralph Krueger declined to reveal the exact nature of the injury, except to say it’s not head-related for a player who’s had past concussion issues. ... Sabres D Brandon Montour did not play and is day to day with a lower-body injury. ... The Blue Jackets had only Zach Werenski (No. 8) and Nathan Gerbe (No. 24) on the ice for the national anthem in a tribute to late NBA star Kobe Bryant, who wore both numbers during his 20-year career with the Lakers.
Blue Jackets: At Montreal on Sunday.
Sabres: Host Colorado on Tuesday night.
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