(WGR 550) – I couldn’t be more impressed with how the Buffalo Sabres handled their back-to-back games against the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders this weekend.
Buffalo was able to take a 5-4 win over the Devils on Friday at home, then on Saturday, they walked into Long Island and played one of their most complete games of the season, shutting out the Islanders, 2-0.
If you want to talk about mentally tough, how about Eric Comrie?
The 27-year-old gave up 10 goals to the Dallas Stars in his last outing on March 9, and then got injured. In his first game back on Saturday, he pitched a 26-save shutout for his first shutout as a member of the Sabres, and the second of his career.
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Buffalo defended extremely well from start-to-finish, and the odd time there was a breakdown, Comrie made the big save.
Comrie’s biggest saves of the game came against Islanders forward Pierre Engvall. Once he got around Owen Power to walk in alone, and another time, he got set up in-tight moving to Comrie’s right. However, the goaltender got his right pad out to keep the Isles scoreless.
The biggest heart-stopper from Comrie on Saturday was when he gave the puck away up the wall and defenseman Noah Dobson put it right back at him and hit the post.
Buffalo did a terrific job of keeping the Islanders' goal scorers - Bo Horvat, Brock Nelson and Anders Lee - away from the prime scoring areas.
I don’t know how Semyon Varlamov wasn’t the first star of the game, because Buffalo created numerous Grade-A scoring chances. He was there to rob the Sabres on multiple occasions.
Varlamov made 33 saves on 34 shots, with the only goal against him coming on a broken play.
It was 0-0 at the 13:31 mark of the third period when Ilya Lyubushkin fired a shot from the right point. As the Islanders always do, Anders Lee tried to block the shot, but it hit him and went across the slot to Kyle Okposo. He shot the puck right away for the game-winning goal.
Honestly, I was so impressed with Buffalo after the Islanders pulled their goalie with just over two minutes left. The work that each and every player put in to make sure New York couldn’t get set up properly and get the puck to their goal scorers.
The empty net goal was thanks to the tenacity of Casey Mittelstadt. He just kept working and working until he got the puck out of the zone. Dylan Cozens brought it through the neutral zone, and knew not to just take a wild shot, because it likely would’ve been blocked. He waited for Jeff Skinner to skate up the left wing, and passed it to him to make sure they got the goal.
If you ever had any doubt about the heart of Tage Thompson, take a look at these two games. He got hurt in the first period of Friday’s game, but he wanted to be out there battling with his teammates. He wasn’t even close to 100%, but he still played 17:03 on Saturday and was dangerous on a few chances.
The Sabres remained patient and never blinked in this game. This is the game head coach Don Granato talks about: Defend well and it’ll lead to good offense. When this team learns to play a majority of their games like this, they will win a lot more games.
As I write this, I can’t think of one player that had a bad game. Were there mistakes? Sure there were, but when the breakdowns came, they were usually in position to help each other.
The Sabres also broke a 10-game road losing streak to the Islanders with their win.
Friday’s game was a different animal. They needed to score the first two goals of the game early, and respond when the Devils made it 2-1. That gave the Sabres the confidence to play like they did three weeks ago - fearless and with pace.
The Devils are a good hockey team, and did score twice to make it a one-goal game, but Buffalo didn’t panic. The Sabres buckled down late, and made sure they could preserve their two points.
It’s not the first time this season the Sabres have won back-to-back games, but these two were certainly different and impressive.