ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Buffalo Sabres‘ West Coast trip was in danger of slipping off the rails before they got right back on track with a Southern California sweep.
Rasmus Ristolainen scored a tiebreaking power-play goal early in the third period, and the Sabres rallied from a two-goal deficit for a 4-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.
The Ducks had a 2-0 lead late in the second period when the Sabres suddenly got rewarded for their persistence in the final stop of their five-game trip.
Kyle Okposo and Jeff Skinner scored 88 seconds apart in the second before Ristolainen ripped a rising slap shot through traffic and past former Sabres goalie Ryan Miller for his first goal of the season.
Patrik Berglund added an empty-net goal as the Sabres followed up a blowout win over Los Angeles on Saturday with a comeback in Orange County. After back-to-back discouraging losses in Vegas and San Jose, the Sabres gathered themselves and earned their long-struggling club’s first back-to-back wins in SoCal since 2003.
“Two complete games that we just played,” said Okposo, who got his first goal of the season on a power play. “I thought that was the first time all year that we got down in a game and we just never changed the way that we played. That second (Ducks) goal could have been a backbreaker for us, but we just stuck with it. We played the exact same way and we got rewarded.”
Finishing a five-game trip with three victories also is a noteworthy development in the early stages of the Sabres’ attempt to end their seven-year playoff drought.
“Especially on the road, you want to come back and have a good response when you go down,” said Skinner, who has five goals in the last five games after his hat trick against the Kings. “Down the stretch, we made some big plays. It’s a nice feeling when you win like that.”
Okposo had a goal and an assist, and Carter Hutton made several big saves in the frantic final minute. Sam Reinhart had two assists and Hutton stopped 26 shots.
Sam Steel scored his first NHL goal and Kiefer Sherwood scored his second NHL goal for the Ducks, who lost their second straight after a 5-1-1 start to the season. Anaheim is still missing injured forwards Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves, Ondrej Kase and Jakob Silfverberg.
“You’re trying to get to know each other,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “We have so many guys in and out of the lineup right now. It’s hard to get that chemistry. It doesn’t excuse the lack of compete we had tonight.”
Miller made 41 saves for Anaheim against the organization with which he spent his first 12 professional seasons and won the Vezina Trophy in 2010. Miller is the Sabres’ franchise leader with 284 victories and 540 games played in net, but he lost for only the second time in his five career starts against the Sabres.
“We’ve been trying to clean it up as we’ve been going,” Miller said. “But we’re giving up probably too many power play and a few too many shots. It just needs to be better.”
Before the game, a sellout crowd celebrated when the Ducks raised Hall of Fame forward Paul Kariya’s No. 9 to the rafters in the second number retirement in franchise history. Kariya, the first draft pick in the then-Mighty Ducks’ history, played his first nine NHL seasons with Anaheim, scoring 300 goals.
The Ducks are short on veterans, but their newcomers contributed.
The 20-year-old Steel tipped Brandon Montour’s long shot late in the first period for his first goal in his ninth NHL game.
Moments after the Ducks ended a prolonged stretch of Buffalo puck possession in the second, Sherwood scored on a break with a long shot. The 23-year-old Ohio native grew up idolizing Kariya for their shared Japanese ancestry, and the undrafted free agent has seized a chance to play on the right wing in Anaheim with Perry sidelined.
The Sabres quickly erased the lead with a pair of strong plays by Okposo and Skinner, who used his speed to slip behind Anaheim’s defense.
“If you continue to give teams opportunities to practice the power play, you are going to give them life,” said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle, whose team has yielded 13 power plays in the last three games. “The telltale sign (of poor play) for me is I’ve had to mix lines up three games in a row because I wasn’t happy with what was happening out there.”
NOTES: Montour had two assists. … Silfverberg missed his third straight game with a broken fingertip. Perry (knee), Eaves (shoulder) and Kase (concussion) haven’t played all season, while Nick Ritchie hasn’t played since ending his contract holdout Wednesday. … The teams meet again in Buffalo on Dec. 22.
Sabres: Host Montreal on Thursday.
Ducks: At Chicago on Tuesday.