BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jack Eichel shrugged off a sloppy, turnover-filled second period to deliver a breathtaking goal in showing continued signs of how much he’s maturing into the Sabres leader in his fifth NHL season.
Rather than displaying tell-tale signs of frustration as he’s done in the past, Buffalo’s captain responded by scoring the go-ahead goal on an end-to-end rush 7:57 into the third period in a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday night.
“I definitely made some bad turnovers,” said Eichel, including one that led to goalie Linus Ullmark making an acrobatic save to stop Paul Stastny set up in the slot.
“Give Linus credit. He made some huge saves for us,” Eichel added. “But we just stuck with it. It’s a gutsy win. We needed that win.”
Eichel put the game in his hands with Vegas caught in the Buffalo end.
Building a head of steam, Eichel drove through the neutral zone to create a two-on-one break. Cutting to the left wing, Eichel burst past defenseman Shea Theodore, cut to the net and shifted from his backhand to forehand to flip the puck over Marc-Andre Fleury’s glove.
The goal was Eichel’s career-high-matching 28th of the season and sixth game-winner. And it came in a game in which he added an assist to become Buffalo’s first player in 27 years to reach the 60-point mark in 46 or fewer games.
The last Buffalo players to have 60 points in fewer games were Alex Mogilny, who did it in 33 games in 1992-93, and Pat LaFontaine, in 34 the same season.
Teammate Kyle Okposo could only marvel at how Eichel regained his focus.
“I thought the way he came back in the third showed a lot of leadership on his part,” Okposo said. “It showed a lot of character. When the game was on the line, he took it over, and that was great to see, special to see.”
Sam Reinhart had a goal and two assists, and Okposo and Curtis Lazar, with an empty-netter, also scored. Ullmark finished with 24 saves, and the Sabres won for the fourth time in six games.
The loss didn’t sit well with the Golden Knights, who have dropped four straight.
“It’s tougher, especially when you’re losing to teams you know that you’re better than,” forward Mark Stone said, referring to Vegas entering the game with four more wins and seven more points than Buffalo. “We’re a better hockey team. We just have to find ways to put the puck in the net. We’ve kind of gotten stale the last bunch of games.”
Reilly Smith and Tomas Nosek scored for the Golden Knights, whose skid matches their longest streak without a point in the franchise’s three-year history. Vegas lost four in a row during an 0-4-1 skid from Nov. 7-16.
Fleury stopped 22 shots, while missing a chance to earn his 458th career win and move into a tie for fifth on the NHL list with New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist.
Fleury blamed himself for giving up the short side by anticipating Eichel to pass rather than shoot on the decisive goal.
“You always think you can do much more,” Fleury said. “I feel I opened up too much for him to get the goal there.”
In reality, the Golden Knights squandered too many scoring opportunities and were undone by a penalty-killing unit that allowed two goals on three opportunities.
Jonathan Marchessault missed scoring into a wide-open net midway through the second period, while Chandler Stephenson had a shot beat Ullmark, only to have the puck slide through the crease and wide with under three minutes left.
The teams traded one-goal leads in the second period, and Eichel’s goal regained Buffalo’s momentum after Smith tied the game at 2 with a power-play goal 1:43 into the third period.
NOTES: The Sabres have converted 6 of 14 power-play chances over five games, after going 2 of 29 in their previous 12. … Marchessault, one of four Golden Knights with 15 or more goals, returned after missing five games with a lower-body injury. … Sabres C Tage Thompson will miss the remainder of the season after having surgery Tuesday to repair a right shoulder he injured in November. … Vegas opened a stretch of playing eight straight on the road, spanning the NHL All-Star break, and won’t be back home until Feb. 8, against Carolina.
Golden Knights: At Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Sabres: At Dallas Stars on Thursday.
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