It was a Sunday matinee at the American Airlines Center as the Dallas Stars welcomed the Buffalo Sabres to town. Looking to avenge their overtime loss and continue a recent string of strong play, Dallas also had the added motivation of working themselves into the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. On the opposite end of the playoff spectrum are the Buffalo Sabres, who came into the afternoon sporting a 2-7-1 record in their last ten and a five game losing streak. Long out of the playoff picture no team in the NHL is playing worse hockey than the Sabres. Given all that is on the line for a Stars team looking to claw their way into the post-season, Buffalo would love nothing more than to play spoiler on the road.
Dallas came out in the opening minutes of the first period and immediately grabbed control of the game in every area except the score board. At the five minute mark Dallas held a decisive six to nothing shot advantage, and was feasting off of continuous Buffalo turnovers. The most noticeable player on either team was the newly acquired Alex Tuch for Buffalo, who nearly gave the Sabres the first goal of the game on a two-on-one chance. The best chances for the Stars in the early going were off of rush chances that turned into rebound opportunities in-tight. So far, the majority of the Stars shots had been courtesy of those second chance opportunities in front of Craig Anderson.
Buffalo would finally record their first shot of the game nearly ten minutes into the first period on a close in chance on Jake Oettinger. It was the first time in the game where Buffalo was able to gain any territorial advantage in the Stars end. The first goal of the game would finally come for the Stars on a great cycling play off the wall by Michael Raffl and Radek Faksa. Faksa would dig for the puck, cycle up high to Miro Heiskanen, who would then hit Faksa with a pass. Faksa ripped the puck towards the net where the stick of Raffl deflected it past the Buffalo net-minder for the 1-0 lead.
Raffl wasn’t done putting his mark on the opening period, as he was able to scamper in and draw the games first penalty on a nice power move towards the Buffalo net. The penalty would be assessed to Casey Fitzgerald for holding and for the first minute of the power-play the Stars seemed utterly out of sync. The Sabres would suffocate the Stars power-play set, denying them a shot until the twelve second mark of the advantage. The unsuccessful advantage would continue a pattern of special teams challenges for the Stars.
Dallas 18 Buffalo 6
Dallas 1 Buffalo 0
The start of the second period wouldn’t closely mirror the start of the game with Buffalo coming out much more aggressively. The Sabres aggressiveness would pay off when Jacob Petersen was found guilt of holding the stick thus, giving Buffalo their first power-play of the game. Dallas would kill off the minor though the Sabres power-play set generated plenty of dangerous looks towards the Stars net. Following the killed Sabres penalty the Stars would go back to work in asserting themselves in the Sabres defensive zone. Stringing together consecutive strong shifts, their work would pay off when Roope Hintz converted a nice wrist shot on a slick pass from Joe Pavelski. The goal also represented the first NHL point for defenseman Thomas Harley, who registered an assist on the play.
Following a lull in the game after the Hintz goal the Sabres would finally put a puck past Oettinger on their tenth shot of the afternoon. Tage Thompson deposited his 22nd of the season on a strong wrist shot that beat the Stars net-minder low. The goal came after a couple of moments where the Stars turned the puck over and were generally not in their preferred defensive alignments.
Riley Tufte introduced himself to the game and his fists to Tage Thompson on a post whistle scrum to the right of the Sabres net. The exchange was the first time in the game that tempers flared a bit following a stoppage. On this occasion no penalties were assessed. The Michael Raffl show would continue into the second period when the forward notched his second of afternoon on a rebound chance in-tight on Anderson. The goal also gave Tyler Seguin another assist giving him his 11th point in the month of February.
Dallas 26 Buffalo 16
Dallas 3 Buffalo 1
Buffalo once again came out to start the final frame as if they wanted to force Dallas onto their heels. Mission accomplished as the Sabres closed the shot gap almost immediately as the Stars were content to go into their defensive shell. However, the Buffalo momentum was momentarily thwarted when Tage Thompson took a slashing penalty nearly eight minutes into the period. For the majority of the advantage the Stars power-play was absolutely suffocated by the Sabres penalty killers. It wasn’t until the Stars were able to set up in the zone with ten second remaining that it broke out of it’s 0-16 slump. Jamie Benn was able to work the puck up to Esa Lindell, who then shot the puck towards the Buffalo net. Denis Gurianov was able to successfully deflect the puck past Anderson for the power-play goal.
Following the Dallas goal the Sabres would hand the Stars another power-play when Jeff Skinner committed a tripping penalty deep in the Stars end of the ice. Once again the Sabres penalty killers were up to killing the Dallas advantage returning the game to even-strength. Through the first fifteen minutes of the third period the young Oettinger was the star of the show, repelling a Sabres attack that has fired fifteen shots on goal.
The Stars run of play through the third period would finally result in damage on the scoreboard when former Star Cody Eakin was able to make a strong move and slide a puck past Oettinger. The goal made the shots in the period seventeen to three, and represented a noticeable shift in the style of game the Stars were playing.
The Sabres would attempt to throw everything and the sink at the Stars as the game entered the final stretch. With just under two minutes remaining Buffalo pulled Anderson for the extra attacker and was able to establish significant zone-time. The Sabres snapped the puck around, generating dangerous looks at the Dallas net, but as the game entered the final minute they were unable to best Oettinger. Ultimately the Stars would able to hold on and hold off the Sabres attack to finish out the home win.
Dallas 31 Buffalo 41
Dallas 4 Buffalo 2