After seeing #1 overall pick Connor McDavid twice earlier this year, the Blues got their first look at #2 Jack Eichel and the new look Sabres. Needless to say the Sabres were a much better team than the Oilers will likely be all year and it almost cost the Blues. Not sure if this team was still taking time off from flying back from Columbus but it seemed like their legs still haven't caught up to them yet.
The game opened with a lot of hard hits from both sides as it seemed like the two teams were trying to see how much each other could take before one snapped. Robby Fabbri looked like he was going to potentially have one of those special nights as he was everywhere on the rink. The Blues got their chance to put their stamp on this game when Tyler Ennis caught Alex Pietrangelo with a heavy hit from behind which resulted in a 5 minute major boarding call.
The first power play unit wasted no time getting things going as David Backes would win the face off and the puck would work its way to Kevin Shattenkirk, who even battling flu like symptoms is still a must have on the ice for a power play. And boy was he shot "sick" tonight as he ripped it from the point past Linus Ullmark for the 1-0 lead.
But if fans were confident that the Blues would keep scoring at will on this power play, they were sadly mistaken. Not only did the Sabres PK out shoot the power play unit, they also got the best chance to score the next goal as Ryan O'Reilly had two attempts on Jake Allen. Yet Allen was once again Superman as he was able to stop the first shot and as O'Reilly continued past him was able to reach his goal stick back and bat the rebound attempt to the corner of the boards.
Buffalo would continue to apply pressure in the offensive zone as the period ran down, achieving their first real sustained pressure with about two minutes left to go in the period. They pushed all the way to the horn sounded but there weren't really a lot of actual shot attempts in that span. The Blues would take a 1-0 lead into the intermission but it wasn't a comfortable feeling heading to the break.
Instead of coming out of the locker room with the intent of tightening up the defense, the Blues went with the status quo and they got burned from it. With a delayed penalty in hand, the Sabres cycled the puck around the boards before Rasmus Ristolainen's shot caromed off Allen's pads and right to Sam Reinhart's stick:
The Blues would bounce back right after, though, with Jori Lehtera drawing a hooking call on Jake McCabe just two minutes later. On the ensuing man advantage, the puck would get worked around the zone before coming to Tarasenko who fired the puck on net. The shot was so hard and fast that no one registered it was in and Steen fired it into the empty net for the lead and the second power play goal of the night. As you will see on replay though, Vladi would get credit and notch his 12 goal of the year.
The ugly head of sloppy defense would rear back up though as the period progressed and it was surprisingly Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester who were on the ice for the times it really hurt the Blues. Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta (who seriously still plays??!!??) were able to lure in three Blues behind or near the back of the net and allowed O'Reilly to slip into the slot alone for the goal.
Maybe Paajarvi should have played a bit further down toward the goal but the play behind the net was so slow that it likely lulled every one to sleep.
Fabbri would try to get the Blues going with a strong shift in the offensive zone. Fabbri danced between defenders and when he lost the puck it somehow found its way back to his stick. Unfortunately he never got a clean shot on goal and the game remained tied.
As the period ticked down, Robert Bortuzzo would "interfere" with McCabe to give the Sabres, 3rd best on the power play, their first attempt of the night. O'Reilly would get yet another chance to on Allen but still could not solve the net minder. When Kyle Brodziak went off for tripping it seemed like the momentum would continue to favor Buffalo as they had 49 seconds of 5 on 3 action. The penalty killers would clear the two man deficit off and wouldn't allow a shot the rest of the period.
The third was a lot like the opening period as both teams went back and forth on chances. Brodziak would get a great look after Pietrangelo fed him a Chris Pronger-like zone to zone pass but Ullmark was up to the challenge. Shortly after Dmitri Jaskin gained the zone and powered his way to the middle of the zone, threw a shot on net and almost knocked the rebound out of mid air past the Sabres goalie.
The Sabres chances began and ended with an almost two minute 5 on 3 advantage as Gomez would go off for slashing and Backes would follow 13 seconds later with another boarding penalty. It then turned fully into the Jake Allen show. O'Reilly would fire a puck off Allen's glove and would get denied a short time later after a cross ice pass was shut down by a sliding Allen.
After killing the 5 on 3 the pace really ramped up as the the teams traded chances. Robert Bortuzzo had the best attempt when he sliced through the defense only to have his backhand denied at the doorstep. With roughly 30 seconds to go a misplay by Pietrangelo put Allen in a compromising position. But the young man didn't even hesitate and rushed headlong to the middle of the zone to poke check the puck out of the reach of the Sabres and preserving the 2-2 tie.
What is there to say about overtime other then hang on to your shit? Paajarvi toe dragged around Eichel but lost it going backhand to forehand. Buffalo countered with a 2 on 1 that was broken up and sprung Tarasenko for a breakaway. His shot rang of the post and created a 3 on 1 for the Sabres and O'Reilly once again was denied by Allen. This is what we are getting for the All-Star Game, how can one not get at least a little excited about this? But the goalies were just to good in this game and we would end up going to the first shootout this year for the Blues.
Shattenkirk was the first out and he would have Ullmark beat but slid the puck on the ice instead of lifting it past the already committed goalie.
O'Reilly would get one final attempt to beat Allen but was topped once more by the quick glove of The Snake.
Tarasenko would try his Jussi Jokinen move but the long legs of Ullmark denied the attempt.
I don't know what the hell Ennis was doing slapping a shot at Allen but we will take it.
Steen would whip wide of the goal and Ullmark may have been thinking he was going to cut across the net but Steen slipped the puck short side and while it did get reviewed, it still counted as a good goal.
Evander Kane was the last shot for Buffalo. He would hold the puck waiting for Allen to bite but when he didn't he fired the puck and Allen got just enough blocker on it to redirect it into the crossbar for a Blues victory.
This wasn't the strongest response to the lackluster performance in Columbus but a victory is a victory. Buffalo really impressed tonight and its clear that they have a superstar in Eichel and a good plan with Dan Bylsma leading them. The Blues welcome back an old friend in the Detroit Red Wings Saturday night for what should be a great Saturday Night Hockey game in St. Louis.
#3 - Vladimir Tarasenko: PPG, 12th of the year
#2 - Alex Steen: 2 Assists, GWG in shootout
#1 - Jake Allen: 32 saves including at least another 2 highlight reel worthy. Does he garner the start on Saturday?