Sabres recap: Back to the future

(Photo from the Sabres Twitter feed)
Ted Nolan’s second first win as head coach of the Buffalo Sabres turned out to be very much like the one that came back in 1995.

The Sabres’ new, old coach was nostalgic during his first post-game press conference in Buffalo in 16 years. The Sabres’ 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday likely returned fond memories for the former coach, but also for the 19,070 inside the sold-out crowd First Niagara Center.

A little hard work and virtually any semblance of a complete level proved to be a stark improvement since the Sabres fired Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston three days earlier.

That’s going to be a common theme for the rest of this season with Nolan behind the bench: The Sabres won’t be the most talented team, but if Friday’s game was any indication, they won’t be outworked, either.

“Emotionally, I think we were in it. [Nolan] got us pumped up tonight and I think that’s what Ted’s all about,” said Marcus Foligno, whose second-period goal turned out to be the game winner.

“The attitude was right,” Foligno added. “There was a lot of energy in here. [Nolan is] a smart talker and he gets us going. It that was a big win there for us to get the first of his welcome back here, so it was great.”

Nolan’s first win as a head coach in the NHL came against the Ottawa Senators in 1995. The score: 3-1. The Sabres team finished fifth in the division. It was a team very much short on talent, but filled to the brim on grit and intangibles.

The same all-or-nothing mantra Nolan used back then might not stick as well with this squad, but it was at least evident in the first period Friday.

The Sabres, notoriously terrible out of the gate through 20 games this season, outshot the Leafs 10-5 in the first period. For just the fourth time this season, Buffalo didn’t trail at the first intermission.

Although Leafs rookie Trevor Smith put the Sabres down 1-0 for the 19th time in 21 games with his goal at 6:25 in the second, Buffalo didn’t sit back.

Steve Ott tied the game three minutes later and, at 15:22, sparked the play that put the Sabres up for good.

As Ott corralled a pass at the neutral zone, Foligno joined him on the odd-man rush fresh out of the penalty box. Ott floated a pass across the crease to the stick of Foligno, who buried a backhand over the left shoulder of Jonathan Bernier to give Buffalo the lead.

Christian Ehrhoff’s empty net goal with 28 seconds left to play in the third period secured the Sabres’ second regulation win of the season.

“It was pretty fun for me to look up every once in a while to see how much fun fans were having,” said Nolan, who isn’t shy about his emotions. That’s what the fans remember most about the fiery 37-year-old rookie coach from 1995.

He admitted to those feelings Friday.

“I really had to hold them in tight,” Nolan said of his emotions as he exuberantly and nervously tapped his right foot to the ground behind the podium in front of about 50 media members gathered to take in the Sabres’ most anticipated game in three years.

“It was one of those games where you never know if this type of thing was ever going to happen again,” he continued. “It was very emotional. I’ll probably cry after you all leave.”

Ryan Miller finished the game with 32 saves and his fourth win of the season. Ott (1+1) and Mark Pysyk (0+2) each had two points apiece.

Buffalo heads to Toronto tonight to finish off the home-and-home series.

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