OPINION: Devon Levi sparkles in NHL debut

The 21-year-old made huge saves and looked like a veteran in net

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Devon Levi played his first NHL game on Friday for the Buffalo Sabres, and was more than up for the challenge against the New York Rangers.

The 21-year-old rookie was calm and collected in the net, despite waiting 10:20 to make his first NHL save. The best word to describe it is poise.

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For 40 minutes, the Sabres did a phenomenal job of defending around their goaltender. They allowed the Rangers just five shots on goal through 28:43, and 11 shots through two periods.

It was only fitting after Jeff Skinner scored the overtime winner, as three Rangers stood there and watched him undress them, he pointed right at Levi and met him at center ice for the celebration.

Skinner had extra motivation to score, as late in the third period, he had a great scoring chance taken away when he was pulled down to the ice. No penalty was called, and Skinner was furious as he went back to the bench.

He used that motivation to score a nice goal in the overtime period.

Levi made 31 saves, including 19 in the third period when the Sabres stopped defending well, made casual plays along the wall and turned the puck over. In overtime, Levi had to be sharp to stop Filip Chytil and Artemi Panarin.

Levi made a huge save on Panarin in the third period, as he was open from the slot.

"I loved it," said Levi following Friday's win. "That’s why I’m there, to stop the puck. If I didn’t want that to happen, I think there’d be something wrong. So it’s my job, and I love what I do. There’s no other guy I want with me in the slot."

The Rangers had played on Thursday, while the Sabres hadn’t played since Monday. That didn’t stop the Rangers from taking over. Levi was totally fine with how things played out.

"I think the third period was my favorite part of the night," Levi said. "They get a goal, then the power play and it’s a 2-2 game. What are you going to do to give your team a chance to win? That’s when the pressure’s on, and those are the moments I love.

"I was just having fun out there. I wanted some one-timers on that power play, I wanted them to find the seam and test me. I felt that I was ready, and I just wanted to be tested tonight."

Buffalo got off to a 2-0 lead thanks to the "Kid line", and Jordan Greenway just bulling his way to the net.

JJ Peterka gave them a 1-0 lead on a beautiful passing play from Jack Quinn, to Dylan Cozens to Peterka. The impressive part was, yes, Peterka had an open net and made it look easy, but it wasn’t because the 6-foot-5 Niko Mikkola was on Peterka’s body and was hard on his stick. Peterka was even harder on the stick, getting his blade free for his 11th goal of his rookie season.

Buffalo was just so strong in the first 40 minutes by defending extremely well, and creating speed and offense the other way. Jaroslav Halak made many big saves to keep the game in reach for the Rangers.

As soon as this young team realizes if they play most nights that way, they will not only make the playoffs, but be one of the better teams around. Sabres head coach Don Granato and his staff have been begging for their players to play that way, which is the identity they want for this team.

Buffalo is in Philadelphia to meet the Flyers on Saturday.

The Sabres have laid two eggs against the Flyers this season, and this isn’t going to be an easy game. The Flyers had their four-game winning streak broken on Thursday in Ottawa, but they did come back from a 4-1 deficit to pick up a point in overtime.

Philadelphia has points in seven-straight games, going 5-0-2. The Sabres are 3-0-1 in their last four games.

After Friday’s game, Granato said there’s a chance Tage Thompson could feel well enough to play on Saturday. He’s missed two games with an upper-body injury.

Join Brian Koziol and myself for pregame coverage on WGR starting at 6 p.m. ET.

Photo credit Losi & Gangi
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