UNIONDALE – It’s a pretty simple rule for NHL teams. You get a victory, enjoy it for the night and then forget it because there’s another game coming up.
That rule is going to broken by the Buffalo Sabres. They are finally victorious after a miserable start to the season, and they’re going to keep the celebration going.
“We’re going to enjoy this one maybe a little bit longer than we should,” Drew Stafford said Tuesday after a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders. “Usually, you enjoy it and you’ve got to get ready to go for the next game. For now, this one, we’ve got to feel good in here, got to get some fun, got to get some positivity because it’s been pretty tough.”
The Sabres (1-6-1) stopped their record-tying winless streak to start the season with a gritty effort. Playing their third game in four nights with the weight of seven losses on their back, the Sabres rallied for a tying goal with 2:01 left and won the breakaway challenge.
“We were starting to get about one-tenth of the way through the season here without any real points to show for it,” said goaltender Ryan Miller, who made 41 saves. “It’s important to get that extra point and let the guys feel good.
“It’s good to finally get a win. It’s good that the guys get rewarded for the effort and sticking with it. We have been in some games. We have given it the effort, but we’ve come up short. After a while, it can wear on you. It’s good that they get rewarded, and it gives us a chance to feel good for a little while and see if we can build. That’s the key now is go build.”
The Sabres won because one of their scoring lines finally found the net. Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Stafford dominated the Islanders, finishing with two goals, three assists and nine shots.
“There was some shifts where actually we got tired from having the puck,” Foligno said. “No disrespect to the Islanders. It was just one of those cycles where it kept going, going and going. You almost tire yourself out.”
Ennis recorded his first goal and point to pull the Sabres into a 1-1 tie during the second period. Foligno tied the game as 10,512 fans in Nassau Coliseum were beginning to count the seconds toward a victory.
The Islanders had taken a 3-2 lead on the power play with 11:16 to play. It showed again if the Sabres didn’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have any. A shot bounced off New York’s Matt Moulson and into the net as Miller could only shake his head as he watched the replay.
The Sabres, playing their best game one night after a boring 2-1 home loss to Minnesota, refused to relent. Tyler Myers kept the puck in the Islanders’ zone, and Foligno turned and fired from the top of the faceoff circles to beat goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.
“He stayed in, and that was a huge difference,” Foligno said of Myers. “Maybe before it might have been different with our D backing out already and going the other way. With his long stick and long reach, he was able to protect it, keep it in.
“I just got it, settled it down and shot it. There were two guys in front of the net, and I think it went off one of them – just throw pucks at the net and see what happens.”
Thomas Vanek, who scored the Sabres’ second goal to make it 2-2, joined Ennis in celebrating shootout goals. Miller stopped Islanders captain John Tavares to end it.
“It feels good to get the first one, but we’ve got to keep rolling,” said Ennis, whose team hosts Vancouver on Thursday night.
The Sabres’ comeback was made even more improbable by the loss of forward Zemgus Girgensons.
Myers took a high slap shot that may have been tipped, and it soared into the left side of Girgensons’ face as he jockeyed for position in front. Before he even hit the ice, several Sabres and Islanders were already signaling for the athletic trainer.
Girgensons slowly removed his helmet as blood pooled in his face shield and on the ice. He made it to the dressing room under his own power while holding a towel to his face, but he did not return. He had stitches above his left eye, which was purple and nearly swollen shut after the game.
“He’s going to be fine,” coach Ron Rolston said. “It’s just a matter of probably getting the swelling down.”
Girgensons didn’t let the injury stop him from joining the postgame party, one that may keep going well into today.
“The emotion of the game helped our guys,” Rolston said. “Guys took it to heart where we’re at and did a good job.”