News | 9/10/2011 8:17:10 PM | Kevin Snow (Sabres.com)
TRAVERSE CITY, MI --- After putting themselves into two-goal hole early in the first period, the Buffalo Sabres rallied for three straight goals and held on to defeat the Minnesota Wild 6-3 in the opening game of the 2011 NHL Prospect Tournament at the Centre Ice Arena.
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Coach Ron Rolston was pleased with the team’s effort, especially after falling behind in the first period.
“I don’t know if it was jitters, or just getting the feet under us, but we had a real slow start. I thought as the game progressed we got better and better as a team, and every individual on the team made adjustments that they had to -- whether it was our defensive core in our own zone, or our forwards playing the way they needed to play. It was good to see the guys making improvements.”
The Sabres were led offensively by the line of Marcus Foligno, Luke Adam and Zack Kassian. The trio moved the puck around as if they’d been playing together for years, and were a dominant physical presence throughout the game. It was Adam who scored Buffalo’s first goal of the game when he stepped into the slot and buried a perfect feed from Kassian who fought off a defender behind the net.
Kassian also made a contribution that didn’t appear on the scoresheet, as he provided an eclipse-like screen in front of Minnesota goaltender Darcy Kuemper, allowing Nick Crawford’s fluttering point shot to find the back of the net with just five seconds left in the first to even the score at 2-2.
Foligno had an assist, but was denied a goal in the second period when he appeared to convert a cross-ice pass from Adam behind Kuemper. Neither referee signaled a goal, and they eventually deferred the final decision to a goal judge stationed behind the net. (However, reviewing the game footage from Sabres.com, the puck appeared to strike the middle bar behind Kuemper and bounce out at an odd angle.)
Rolston was very happy with the performance of his top line.
“They had a lot of chemistry out there. They’re all big bodies, and they have the right mix on that line,” he explains. “Marcus did a good job of making room and getting to the net, and the other two guys are hard to take off the puck. Offensively, they were very dominant for us out there.”
Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen stopped 18 of 21 Wild shots to earn the victory. The 6-foot-5 Lieuwen settled down after giving up the two quick goals, with the key play of the game for him being a sprawling glove save on Kris Foucault while the Wild were on a power play already up 2-0 in the first. He admitted after the game that he was having trouble communicating with his defensemen early on, and that he was a bit nervous when the puck dropped. Making that save was exactly what the 20-year-old needed at that time.
“Maybe at the start (I was nervous); it’s my first big time game,” he said. “But whenever you do something successful it kind of calms you down, and you think ‘Okay, I fit in here.’ I really felt comfortable after that.”
Riley Boychuk, Jonathan Parker, Daniel Catenacci and Phil Varone (empty net) rounded out the Buffalo scoring. Zack Phillips, Chay Genoway and Mike Kramer scored for Minnesota.
NOTES: The Sabres were 1-for-7 on the power play, while the Wild converted on two of three chances… Kassian fought Kris Fredheim late in the third period, after being challenged several times by numerous players throughout the game. Kassian took exception at being unceremoniously dumped in the corner by Fredheim, and proceeded to land several lefts on the 6-foot-2, 195-pound, Wild defender… Buffalo’s five scratches were Jacob Lagace, Steven Shipley, Cedrick Henley, Alex Lepkowski and Alex Biega.
UP NEXT: Sunday vs. Columbus, 2:30 p.m.