TORONTO– There was no enthusiasm on the Buffalo Sabers bench, as if their Stanley Cup playoff aspirations were fading in the night.
Unless they weren’t.
There they were, two goals down on the Toronto Maple Leafs and just 24-13 into Monday’s game at the Scotiabank Arena, up 15-4. With the Maple Leafs in front Calle Jarnkrok Sabers coach Don Granato, who had just scored the second goal, was monitoring his players for signs of panic, especially after slipping in four games (0-3-1).
There was none of that.
“The chatter on the bench, you hear it,” Granato said. “There was no emotion. No extra energy wasted anywhere.”
Just calm confidence.
“You were selected,” Granato said. “This group knows they can score. We’re trying to sell them that other side (defensively) and we believe in that confidence. Obviously it came through tonight.”
I’ve done it before.
Instead of being dejected, Buffalo responded with four straight goals and won a 4-3 win. In a game that could have dampened their Stanley Cup playoff hopes, the turnaround could be a pivotal moment should the Sabers return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Video: Sabers celebrates comeback victory on the road
As his team attempted to end this long drought, Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams decided not to hire experienced loanees before the March 3 NHL trade deadline. The organization’s rationale: to qualify for the playoffs or not, the young core must endure the ups and downs of pursuing a spot. Whatever adversity players go through, it will be a learning experience. Overall, this type of thinking will be far more beneficial in the long run than trading in for older players with expiring contracts who won’t be around next season.
They faced such adversity after Jarnkrok’s goal. They responded by resisting.
“I don’t think anything needed to be said at the time,” says Sabers Alexander cloth called. “I think everyone knew. I don’t think there were any words spoken. Maybe a few ‘come on’ and ‘stick with it’ because I didn’t think we were playing that badly.”
Perhaps. But from then on they played much better.
Consider this: After Jarnkrok’s goal, Buffalo had the next 16 shots of the game and held Toronto without one for 17:09.
Indeed, the Sabers controlled the latter half of the game, extending a 4-2 lead with two goals from Tuch and more goals Jack Quinn And Dylan Cozens. William Nylander put the Maple Leafs 1:02 up 4-3, but the Sabers held on.
“We just kept at it,” said Tuch, who had missed the previous eight games with a lower body injury. “I didn’t think we were going to play that badly. We’ve only had a few unfortunate breaks and a few bad breakdowns.
“But we stuck with it. We kept pushing and things went our way tonight.”
Make no mistake, there’s still work to be done for the Sabers. Buffalo (33-28-5) is five points behind the New York Islanders for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference but has two games in hand.
All the while that calm trust remains.
“We’ve had a bit of trouble in the last couple of games,” said the defender Rasmus Dahlin called. “But it’s so good that our team mentality is coming back.
“We know we can beat the best teams in the league. We just have to keep building. All the boys are healthy so it’s a lot of fun.”
About 30 minutes after the win, Sabers defenders Owen power, who grew up in nearby Mississauga, Ontario, took to the stands to see family and friends before boarding the bus for the two-hour ride back to Buffalo. The highlight for the Sabers rookie, who had two assists in the game: a hug with his 93-year-old grandmotherYvonne.
“Great game,” she said.
Ultimately, that was true of all Sabers, given what they’d come back from that night.