OPINION: Luukkonen wins NHL debut over Boston

The win broke Boston's 10-game winning streak against Buffalo

Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen not only made his National Hockey League debut on Friday, he also got his first NHL win, beating the Boston Bruins, 6-4.

Despite giving up four goals, I thought the 22-year-old rookie was very solid against a very good team.

It started about as badly as it could. The Buffalo Sabres came out and played one of their best periods of the year, but one mistake cost them. Luukkonen saw his first NHL shot just 2:15 into the game, and it was a goal when Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer was wide-open down the slot getting a pass from former Sabres forward Taylor Hall. Luukkonen had no chance.

Luukkonen had to stand in his crease for almost eight minutes before he saw his next shot, and he finally had his first NHL save when Hall shot from the left wing circle.

Buffalo did a terrific job limiting the Bruins, and the next scoring chance didn’t come until the end of the period when on the power play, Craig Smith steered a point-blank shot and Luukkonen held his position, was square to the shooter and made the save.

Buffalo had gone 0-for-11 against the NHL’s top penalty killing unit in the first two games of this three-game set, but in their first opportunity Friday, Rasmus Dahlin put a pass right in Sam Reinhart’s wheelhouse and he wired home his 18th goal of the season.

Luukkonen only had to make five saves in the opening period in, what could’ve been, Buffalo’s most complete 20 minutes of the season. You have to remember they’re doing this with a defense that’s second oldest member is 24-years-old.

Good defense led to good offense in the first 40 minutes for Buffalo. Boston came right at Luukkonen to start the second period, but David Pastrnak fanned on a wide-open one-timer and Luukkonen made a really nice save on Brad Marchand in close.

Luukkonen helped steady the ship, and the Sabres got back to their game. The goaltender felt that’s when he started to feel like he was settled in.

“I think maybe during the second period was the time I [caught] up to the pace and I started to feel more comfortable there," Luukkonen said Friday night following the win. "I think it will take a couple of more games to feel really comfortable at this level.”

I think the save that really may have helped him feel clutch was when Mike Reilly broke free down the slot. Luukkonen looked confident squaring up to the shooter and challenging for the save.

Luukkonen had a little luck, as Anton Blidh hit the post solid from distance. Luukkonen faced 13 Boston shots in the second period, but the Sabres had 16 on Tuukka Rask and had scored three goals on him.

The fourth was scored by Arttu Ruotsalainen just 1:14 into the third period to chase Rask. It was Ruotsalainen’s fourth goal in nine NHL games.

Before you get too carried away, he started in Rochester with the Americans this season because he needed to. Ruotsalainen had to learn the North American game on the smaller ice surface, and he’s said himself the experience in the American Hockey League helped him.

Just 3:16 later, Reinhart had his second power play goal of the game when Charlie Coyle, for some unknown reason, passed the puck from the boards right in front to a wide-open Reinhart. He, of course, didn’t miss and it was 5-1.

Things were going swimmingly until all-of-a-sudden, Nick Ritchie found himself in Luukkonen’s lap. The big goaltender made the first save, but Ritchie slid the rebound under him. It was no big deal though, as it was still 5-2 with just 7:54 left.

Then all-of-a-sudden, the real Bruins showed up, and Luukkonen had to face 11 more shots in that time.

Bad luck hit the rookie all at once. Just 3:19 after Ritchie’s goal, Kevan Miller shoots one in off of Rasmus Ristolainen’s stick, and 1:47 after Miller’s goal, Hall banks one in from the side wall off of Ristolainen. That made the score, 5-4.

Luukkonen didn’t get shaken, and neither did the youngest team in the NHL.

Boston got two more shots on goal until Reinhart scored into the empty-net for the hat-trick. That goal gave Reinhart his fifth 20-goal year in his sixth NHL season. Reinhart is on a 36-goal pace if this was a full 82-game schedule.

His 20 goals ranks him 13th in the NHL this season. Reinhart is minus-25 for the year, which is third-worst in the NHL behind Eric Staal and Dahlin.

Luukkonen had 36 saves in his NHL debut.

When Ralph Krueger was the coach, it looked like there was absolutely no way the Sabres would crawl out of 31st place in the NHL. With this win, the Sabres trail the New Jersey Devils by just one point and are two back of the Anaheim Ducks.

When it comes to points percentage, Buffalo is at .344, New Jersey is at .370 and Anaheim is at .372.

The Sabres are next in action Sunday in New York against the Rangers.

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