CALGARY — It took 28 games, but Milan Lucic finally has his first goal with Calgary.
Lucic’s goal 3:58 into the third period ended up the winner as the Flames survived two late Buffalo goals to hang on and beat the Sabres 4-3 on Thursday.
“A little bit of relief. It’s always nice to get the first one with your new team,” said Lucic, who had been held to four assists. “My teammates all along have been sticking with me and building me up, because it took longer than I hoped and probably a lot of people hoped, but good on everyone for all of the support.”
The Saddledome erupted when Lucic finished off a passing sequence with Derek Ryan and Dillon Dube for his first goal since scoring in the final game of the season last year, as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Chants of “Looo” rained down from the crowd as Lucic hugged his teammates in the corner after putting Calgary ahead 4-1.
“I’m more than excited that I was able to do it in front of the home fans. I think they stuck with me, throughout the whole season so far, never game up on me,” Lucic said.
Post-game, it was the goal everyone wanted to talk about.
“He’s one of those guys whose really well respected, obviously, in this locker room, and in the league,” said Sean Monahan, who had a goal and an assist. “So when a guy like that scores a goal like that, there’s a lot of emotion that goes into it and we’re all really happy for him.”
Flames interim head coach, Geoff Ward, goes back to when Lucic came into the league in Boston. They spent seven years together with the Bruins.
“He’s a guy who comes to work every day, he’s a real good pro, he’s team-first all the time, so to see him finally break through, it was awesome.” said Ward, who improves to 3-0-0 since taking over for Bill Peters.
Another ex-Oiler scoring a decisive goal was Tobias Rieder. Playing his 400th NHL game, his short-handed breakaway goal at 11:18 of the second broke a 1-1 tie and gave Calgary the lead for good.
“It always feels good, especially on the PK,” said Rieder, who has two goals after failing to score in 67 games last season. “It was at the right time of the game, as well, it got us going.”
At 15:02, Calgary surged in front 3-1 when Mikael Backlund set up Sean Monahan for his seventh goal of the season.
Johnny Gaudreau, with his first in 11 games, and sixth goal on the year, also scored for Calgary (14-12-4). Ryan chipped in with a pair of assists. The Flames have points in five straight games (4-0-1).
Sam Reinhart, Jake McCabe and Jack Eichel scored for Buffalo (13-11-5), which entered the night with points in its previous four games. Eichel extended his point streak to 11 games (10-10-20).
“We really came out strong on the first and it got away from us a little bit in the second,” said Reinhart. “We got away from our game plan a little bit. I think our forwards didn’t do a good enough job of recognizing when we were turning pucks over in the offensive zone and our gaps weren’t as good as a result, which gave them more time and space.”
The Sabres special teams let them down. Buffalo went 1 for 8 on the power play, while allowing a power-play goal on just two Calgary man advantages.
“I feel like we didn’t play well at all,” said Sabres winger Victor Olofsson. “Started OK, and then Calgary, I thought they took over. They were a lot better than us today up until the last few minutes of the game where we kind of woke up and we fought to the end but couldn’t get that last one in.”
After McCabe made it 4-2 at 17:16 of the third, Eichel scored on the power play at 19:12 — that goal also coming with the goalie pulled — to set up a furious finish.
David Rittich made 26 saves to improve to 13-7-4. Linus Ullmark, who had 25 stops, saw his record fall to 7-6-2.
Notes: Travis Hamonic (lower body) returned to the line-up for Calgary after missing six games… Flames improve to 9-3-1 against the Eastern Conference.