Nicholas Baptiste lifts Sabres to win over Blackhawks

Buffalo Sabres forward Nicholas Baptiste (13) tips the puck past Chicago Blackhawks goalie J-F Berube (34) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 17, 2018. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — For the first time in nearly a decade, the Buffalo Sabres had the bounces to go their way against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Nicholas Baptiste scored two goals in the third period to lead the Sabres to a 5-3 win over the Blackhawks on Saturday. It was Buffalo’s first win over the Blackhawks since December 2009, snapping a 12-game losing streak against Chicago.

The game featured deflections and redirections for both teams, with three of Buffalo’s five goals a result of fortuitous bounces.

"Definitely some lucky bounces, that’s for sure," said Sabres centre Ryan O’Reilly, who had a goal and an assist. "A little luck of the Irish tonight."

Benoit Pouliot and Sam Reinhart also scored for the Sabres — who wore green St. Patrick’s Day jerseys during warmups — and Chad Johnson made 34 saves.

Baptiste was an unlikely star, picking up the sixth and seventh goals of his career.

The 22-year-old tied the game at 3-3 early in the third on a long shot through traffic. With 1:56 remaining, he picked up the game-winner on a deflection. Following a faceoff win in the Chicago end, Marco Scandella’s shot from the point was deflected by Baptiste in the slot to put the Sabres on top for good.

"That’s been the focus of our team for the last little while — getting shots to the net and getting bodies to the net and scoring some ugly ones and we got a couple tonight," Baptiste said. "That’s what it takes to score goals in this league and to win in this league."

The Sabres got a significant lift from the returning Jack Eichel, who was back in the lineup after missing 15 games because of an ankle injury. Eichel had one assist and five shots in 18:14.

"It’s so nice to have him back," O’Reilly said. "The little things he does when he gets the puck, you feel like the whole building is like, ‘OK, what’s he going to do?’ The other team has to be so sharp when he’s out there and it makes us a more dangerous team."

Eichel briefly tweaked his ankle early in the third period, but said he was fine after the game.

Jonathan Toews, Jordan Oesterle and Tomas Jurco scored for the Blackhawks, and Jean-Francois Berube made 27 saves.

"A couple tips and just didn’t get the job done," Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. "It’s been a common theme here for a while. A lot of the games, it even seems we’re scoring the first goal and we can’t come up with anything. It’s kind of been that way all year."

Pouliot opened the scoring with 1:50 remaining in the first period. After Rasmus Ristolainen’s pass was deflected into the crease, Pouliot had an easy tap-in for his 13th goal of the season.

Oesterle evened the score 8:15 into the second following a pretty passing sequence in the Sabres zone. After Toews led Patrick Kane with a drop pass, Kane swung to his right before firing a pass to a wide-open Oesterle in front of the Buffalo net. Oesterle had an easy finish for his fifth goal of the season.

O’Reilly made it 2-1 on the power play with 8:53 left in the second, poking in a rebound that fell behind Berube after Eichel’s shot hit the goalie’s shoulder and went high into the air.

Chicago evened the score again with 5:45 left in the second when a rebound from Toews’ shot hit Ristolainen and went into the net. Jurco was given credit for the goal.

Toews made it 3-2 on a terrific one-man effort 20 seconds into the third period. After his initial shot on a 2-on-1 was stopped, the Blackhawks captain sped to the crease and stole the rebound off Johnson’s stick. The puck flipped into the air, and Toews batted it in for his 20th goal of the season.

Reinhart added an empty-net goal with 38.4 seconds left.

NOTES: Buffalo native Emily Pfalzer was honoured in a ceremonial opening faceoff before the game. Pfalzer was a member of the United States women’s hockey team at the 2018 Olympics, winning the gold medal in a shootout victory against Canada. Pfalzer was also captain of the Buffalo Beauts in the National Women’s Hockey League in 2015-16 and 2016-17. … Sabres centre Zemgus Girgensons was injured midway through the first period and did not return. … Sabres starting goalie Robin Lehner was a healthy scratch.


Blackhawks: Home against St. Louis on Sunday.

Sabres: Host the Nashville Predators on Monday.


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