17,262 people filed into the First Niagara Center for the first breath of hockey since the season finale on April 26. It was the first chance Buffalo had to show it’s home fans that they are ready to work.
That showing came with a 5-2 home win against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.
The win, which puts Buffalo at a perfect 3-0-0 in the preseason, was highlighted by a pair of goals by hopeful Sabre Johan Larsson.
Carolina jumped on Buffalo first, with Zach Boychuk wristing a shot past Ryan Miller 15:45 of the first period. Patrick Dwyer and Radek Dvorak were both credited with assists on Boychuk’s goal
At the first intermission, Carolina led Buffalo, 1-0.
The second period brought new life to the Buffalo offense. Joel Armia, another full-time hopeful, scored what has to be one of my favorite goals. A deep puck was sent down into the Carolina zone, Anton Khudobin went behind the net and tried to play the puck off the board. Armia blocked the puck, picked it up, and scored on the empty net with a beautiful wrap-around play. Just like that, the game was locked at 1-1.
It would only take Carolina about two minutes to regain the lead.
At the 12:41 mark of the second period, a few rough plays by Corey Tropp and Rasmus Ristolainen around the Buffalo net, forced the puck to Radek Dvorak, who in turn slid the puck to Chris Terry. The shot left Terry’s stick, and just like that, Carolina was on top 2-1.
But, as the Buffalo Sabres have proven before, resilience pays off.
The team, which showed promise of physicality, took to bullying some of the Hurricane’s players. This is the team that we lacked, and severely needed. Players like Tyler Myers, who have a huge size advantage, needed to step up and not just try to play a zone defense.
The hard work paid off.
Deep corner play in the Carolina zone by Ville Leino caused the puck to end up on his stick and quickly passed to Brayden McNabb. McNabb, in turn, one-timed the puck and in a mix of traffic, tipped off of Johan Larsson through Khudobin into the net. The game was locked at 2 at the buzzer.
The third period was a whole new thing for the fans in the FNC.
With under 7 minutes to play, a rush of Vanek, Hodgson, and Armia found a wild but extremely on-point pass from Vanek towards the net tipped off of Cody Hodgson’s stick and up into the top off the net over a sprawling Khudobin. The goal from the newly-resigned Hodgson put the Sabres ahead for the first time of the night.
But the scoring didn’t stop there.
Off of a faceoff win, Brayden McNabb ripped a slap-shot from the point, which deflected off of Larsson and dribbled into the net. With Larsson’s second goal, Buffalo led the Hurricanes 4-2.
The final goal of the night came from Brayden McNabb off of a slap-shot to put this game in the books.
At the final buzzer, Buffalo skated off of the ice with a 5-2 win.
Some positives of the game including deep zone play, more shots, huge physical plays, and stellar goaltending by Ryan Miller who backstopped the team with 34 saves.
McNabb finished the night with 1 G and 2 A’s, a solid game for the young guy looking for a roster spot.