Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The Rasmus Dahlin who was one of the two favorites for the Norris Trophy through January showed up on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Dahlin was playing through injuries, and before Saturday, hadn’t scored in 28 games. He only had 16 assists in those 28 games, and it was noticeable how limited he was.
Since December of 2016, Carolina was 14-1-0 against Buffalo, but thanks to Dahlin, that ended on Saturday.
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Buffalo also beat Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta, who came into the game with an 18-2-3 overall record. It was Raanta's first regulation loss since November.
Dahlin had a goal and two assists on Saturday, and was a force throughout the afternoon. However, the play of the game had nothing to do with the Sabres scoring.
About six minutes into the third period with the score tied at 3-3, Dahlin blocked a shot, but Carolina stayed with it. The Hurricanes' leading scorer, Martin Necas, found himself staring at a wide-open net. Devon Levi was nowhere to be found, but Dahlin blocked the shot with his stick and the Sabres sprinted out the other way.
Jordan Greenway got the puck into the zone, and Dylan Cozens got in on the forecheck. Tage Thompson went to the slot, and Cozens found him for a one-timer. His 46th goal of the season turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Dahlin got the festivities started early for Buffalo after Carolina turned the puck over and Dahlin kept it in at the blue line. He immediately relayed it in the middle to Jeff Skinner, who amazingly kicked a perfect pass to Casey Mittelstadt cutting through the left circle. Mittelstadt put a nice move on Raanta for his first goal in 18 games.
The fact that Mittelstadt wasn’t scoring goals didn’t really matter, because he’s been playing the best hockey of his career, especially since he took over for Thompson between Skinner and Alex Tuch. In those 17 games with no goals, Mittelstadt was productive with 13 assists.
Later in the second period, Dahlin came flying into the offensive zone and Owen Power found him with a pass. Dahlin made two slick moves that put Carolina players right down to the ice, and then relayed a no-look, backhand pass to Mittelstadt, who had an open net to deposit his second goal of the game.
Dahlin also scored a very patient goal on the power play. He got the puck from the point and let a screen develop before wristing home his 15th of the season.
Dahlin’s three points on Saturday gives him 72 points in 74 games. That’s fourth in the NHL, one point behind Dougie Hamilton and Quinn Hughes.
Buffalo has never matched up well against Carolina, which is why their record against them the last six-and-a-half years has been so bad. Head coach Don Granato said they won this game because after a first period where they were behind 2-1 and got out competed, they changed the script starting in the second.
Buffalo worked hard and greatly reduced their turnovers, which helped them defend better. Dahlin said in the end, the Sabres just wanted this game more.
The elephant in the room is despite being 6-1-1 in their last eight games, the Sabres just aren't picking up ground on anyone else. The Pittsburgh Penguins also won Saturday afternoon and still are five points in front of Buffalo. The Sabres only have four more games left to play, while Pittsburgh has two.
Levi made 31 saves and is now 3-1-0 in his young NHL career. In this coming week, he’s not going to be able to play four games in five nights, so Granato is going to have to get, at least, one game out of somebody else.
If Craig Anderson gets healthy, that’s who I would put in. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has only played one of the last seven games, but he was great in that game, stopping 39 shots in Philadelphia to beat the Flyers.
Eric Comrie hasn’t played in five games. He lost in a shootout to the Montreal Canadiens, making 38 saves on 41 shots. The game before that he got a 26-save shutout against the New York Islanders.
The team won’t practice on Sunday, and will travel to New York to play the Rangers on Monday.