Jets eliminated from playoff contention with loss to Sabres
Jack Eichel pots go-ahead goal for Buffalo
One glimpse at the scoresheet left Sabres coach Dan Bylsma searching for new designations in referring to Buffalo's top young forwards, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
"I really don't look at them as rookies or young players anymore," Bylsma said. "They're players that are stepping up for our team and leading our team in a lot of ways. And they were today."
Reinhart tied the game 1:23 into the third period and then made a nifty no-look pass to set up Eichel for the go-ahead goal 2:44 later in rallying Buffalo to a 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
The two forwards selected with the No. 2 picks in each of the past two drafts lead Buffalo in scoring, having both topped 21 goals.
If that wasn't enough, the Sabres' youth movement also received a contribution from newly signed forward Hudson Fasching, who rounded out the scoring with a short-handed goal in his NHL debut.
"It's really exciting. It's like a dream come true," said Fasching, who signed with Buffalo on Monday after completing his junior season at Minnesota. "It's been a whirlwind. I think that's been the perfect word for me. It feels like yesterday I was at the University of Minnesota, and now I'm here."
Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp scored 42 seconds apart for Winnipeg, which blew a 2-0 first-period lead and was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
"You've got to be mentally strong," Copp said. "I think we didn't handle a 2-0 start maybe as well as we wanted to. We didn't get lackadaisical, but we didn't stay on it as much as we wanted to."
Coming off consecutive victories, the Jets failed to win three straight for the first time this season.
Injuries have been a yearlong issue for Winnipeg, which was playing minus seven regulars, including defenseman Tyler Myers, who had season-ending surgery on his right knee this past week.
The Sabres overcame their second consecutive 2-1 third-period deficit following a 3-2 win at Carolina on Tuesday in which Buffalo scored twice in the final four minutes.
On Saturday, Reinhart scored off a faceoff to the left of the Winnipeg net. Zemgus Girgensons won the draw and had his shot go off the right goal post. The puck bounced into the slot, where Reinhart slipped a shot under goalie Michael Hutchinson's left arm.
Reinhart then set up Eichel with a no-look backhand pass from the sideboards in the neutral zone. Getting the puck in stride, Eichel caught defenseman Mark Stuart flat-footed in crossing the blue line and snapped a 30-footer just inside the far left post.
The goal was Eichel's team-leading 23rd, fifth game-winner, and 50th point of the season. The 19-year-old became Buffalo's ninth rookie to reach 50 points, and first since Derek Plante finished the 1993-94 season with 56.
"The first thing that pops into your mind is that the future is bright," Sabres defenceman Zach Bogosian said, referring to Buffalo's rookie scoring production. "It's a step in the right direction for them and the team as well."