Tonight the Minnesota Wild welcomed Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres to St. Paul for what was billed as a hockey game. While the Wild were able to keep Eichel off the score sheet, that didn't stop the Sabres from roaring out to an early 3-0 lead in the 1st period. The Wild would make it interesting late, reducing that margin to 3-2 before the final horn sounds, but they just didn't have enough in the tank to complete the comeback.
The Wild came out of the gate a little slow. The managed 10 shots on goal in the 1st period but it really didn't feel like it. Probably on account of the 3 goals the Sabres were able to put up in the opening period. Devan Dubnyk had a pretty solid game all things told. 2 of the Sabres 3 goals were off wicked deflections, and those 2 came just 20 seconds apart. Thomas Vanek had his wheels on early and created some good chances but was unable to solve Linus Ullmark, the Sabres rookie goalie.
Starting the scoring off for the Sabres was Jamie McGinn who fired an Evander Kane rebound past Dubnyk just before the halfway point of the first. Kane was sweeping across the slot when he fired one on net and Dubs didn't control the rebound as he would have liked to as McGinn was sitting right there.
At the 13:30 mark of the opening period, Rasmus Ristolainen, who had a great game for the Sabres, deflected a Brian Gionta shot from the point that Dubnyk really didn't have much of a chance on. 20 seconds later Gionta would get his 2nd point of the night when he deflected a Josh Gorges shot past Dubnyk. Another goal that would be hard for any NHL netminder to stop.
The 2nd period the Wild found some legs. They were putting the screws to the Sabres and it shows in the shot count. The Wild charged forward in the 2nd with 14 shots to Buffalo's 5. It would take, strange enough, a Thomas Vanek penalty for the Wild to finally score in the contest. Ryan Suter streaked down the right side and flipped a wrister on net. Ullmark would make the initial save, but deflected the puck almost straight up. When it came back down, it deflected off the crossbar before hitting Ullmark in the back and bouncing into the net. It was just the Sabres 2nd short-handed goal allowed on the season.
The dominance in the 2nd period continued for the Wild, but they really didn't test the unproven netminder too hard. Not to take anything away from Ullmark, he had a great game for the Sabres. The Wild just did not get a heaping spoonful of quality chances throughout the game.
The 3rd period came along and the Wild just seemed gassed. The puck was bouncing poorly for them while the Sabres sat back in a 4-1 neutral zone defense which gave the Wild fits. The 3rd period would bring to us a rare goalie penalty when Dubnyk, realizing he was out of position stuck his big mitt out and tripped Eichel behind the net. The Wild were perfect on the penalty kill tonight, but any momentum they had up to that point was quickly drained.
In the waning moments of the game, Vanek's hard work all game would find some fruit when he tipped in a Ryan Suter shot to bring the Wild within one. Unfortunately this came with just 52 seconds left in the game and the Sabres were able to hold on for the remainder and walk out of the X with a 3-2 victory over the Wild.
Mike Reilly played in his 3rd consecutive game tonight, and he's starting to look more and more comfortable at the NHL level. I know Nate Prosser is close, if not ready to come back to the lineup right now, but I'd be very tempted to keep Reilly up for longer. He was playing smart hockey, for the most part. Driving down low in the offensive zone and playing responsibly on the defensive side of things.
The Wild are struggling right now, losing 5 of their last 7 games with 2 of those loses gaining them a loser point for taking it to overtime. In what has been normally a game that gets the Wild going (playing the Sabres) for their stretch run towards the playoffs, the Wild looked pretty slow for large portions of the game. They certainly didn't deserve a win tonight by any stretch of the imagination. The Sabres have improved over last season, and while they are not there yet, they had a lot more fight in them than the Wild did this evening.