BUFFALO, N.Y. – Jack Eichel scored in a shootout, Linus Ullmark made 31 saves and the Buffalo Sabres beat the New Jersey Devils 4-3 on Saturday.
Victor Olofsson, Tobias Rieder and Eric Staal also scored to help the Sabres improve to 3-0-2 in their past five games. Taylor Hall had two assists.
In the first of eight meetings this season between the East Division teams, Sabres coach Ralph Krueger was pleased to see his team respond after twice fall behind by a goal and squandering a one-goal lead in the third period.
“We’re much much, much calmer than last season with going up, going down, tied games,” Krueger said. “It’s good we have this adversity early already. It’s making us more resilient for these kind of games and understanding that it’s going to be like this every day.”
Stall said that ability is the sign of a good team.
“When you’re not at your best, you’re still picking up points in the column,” he said.
Janne Kuokkanen, Ty Smith and Andreas Johnsson scored for New Jersey in former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff’s first trip to Buffalo since taking over the Devils this offseason. Scott Wedgewood stopped 28 shots.
The teams meet again in Buffalo on Sunday.
Eichel returned to the game in the third period after taking a puck to the mouth and briefly leaving for the dressing room. He scored in the first round of the shootout, ringing a shot from the left slot in off the far post.
Ullmark stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout. Ullmark is now 6-3 with 30 saves on 33 shots faced in shootouts, and his .857 career shootout save percentage ranks second all-time and first among active goaltenders that have faced at least 20 shots.
Kuokkanen scored his first NHL goal for the Devils to tie the score at 3 with a little more than nine minutes left in the third period.
“We’ve been struggling lately with scoring, so I am really happy that I was able to help the team,” Kuokkanen said. “But after the game, I’m not too happy about it because it wasn’t enough.”
Kuokkanen jammed the puck inside the near post from just outside the crease after receiving a pass from Michael McLeod.
Olofsson’s power-play goal gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead about midway through the third. Rasmus Dahlin set up Oloffson for a rising wrist shot from the right circle.
Rieder scored a tying goal for Buffalo 41 seconds after Johnsson gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead in the opening minutes of the third period. Cody Eakin created the scoring chance by battling behind the net for the puck and leaving a backhand pass in the left circle for Rieder,
Devils rookie center Jack Hughes tallied his team-leading eighth point of the season when he set up Johnsson for a rising wrist shot from the left circle.
Smith’s power-play goal late in the second period tied it at 1-1. With Stall serving a penalty for hooking in the offensive zone, Smith received a pass from P.K. Subban just inside the blue line and beat Ullmark with a straightaway slap shot.
“We generated a lot of high-quality opportunities,” Ruff said. “The common theme through these first games has been we’ve missed two many good opportunities.”
Among those missed chances was the Devils failing to put a shot on goal during a five-on-three power play in the first period against the Sabres.
“If we ever get those five-on-threes again,” Devils forward Damon Severson said, “it’ll be huge for us to score on them.”
Staal gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead midway through the second period when he scored on a wrist shot from the high slot.
New Jersey center Travis Zajac did not travel to Buffalo for the weekend series after entering the league’s COVID-19 protocol on Friday. The Devils called up Nicholas Merkley from the taxi squad to replace Zajac in the lineup.
Buffalo forward Sam Reinhart is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and snapped a streak of 246 consecutive games played. Tage Thompson took Reinhart’s place in the Sabres lineup.
Sabres forward Taylor Hall played against his former team for the first time since the Devils traded him to Arizona on Dec. 16, 2019. Buffalo’s top free-agent acquisition assisted on two goals, tying Eichel for the team lead with nine points in eight games.
Ruff served as a Rangers assistant and Stars head coach since being fired by the Sabres in 2013. He coached the Sabres for 16 seasons following a nine-year playing career in Buffalo.
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