Sabres 4, Canucks 3 (SO): Understudies stole the show before the script changed

BUFFALO — Matinee movies can often disapoint.

You’re looking for something special and often don’t see nearly enough, especially when there are names of note on the marquee.

On Saturday afternoon, there was more anticipation about a building lake-effect blizzard that was supposed to blanket the area than what Swedish rookies and first-round draft picks Ellias Pettersson and Rasmus Dahlin were able to produce. They were quiet. Very quiet.

Pettersson was held in check and held pointless for just the third time in his first 12 NHL games, but there was a plot twist that helped the Vancouver Canucks on the third stop of their six-game road trip. It’s because the understudies not only showed up, they stole the show.

Loui Eriksson scored his fourth goal in as many games. Jake Virtanen ignited another social media goal celebration with his seventh of the season as the Canucks erased a 1-0 deficit in 70 seconds late in the second period. And Erik Gudbranson collected his sixth point in the last five games — and his second goal in as many games — to build a 3-1 cushion early in the third period.

That should have been it. Turn out the lights. Everybody go home.

After all, Jacob Markstrom made a quick post-to-post move to thwart Jeff Skinner in the third period before stopping Evan Rodrigues on the shorthanded breakaway. But he then gave up a goal to Skinner and then a big rebound to Sam Reinhart made this movie run longer.

Here’s what we learned as Nikolay Goldobin hit the post in overtime before before the Sabres “woke” and “got lit” and won it 4-3 in a shootout at the KeyBank Center:

Jake’s best take is to the net

Virtanen goals in consecutive games shouldn’t be shocking because he had three shots in the first period Saturday and had it going early with linemate Nikolay Goldobin.

And on a strong rush late in the second period, Virtanen raced down the left side and got enough space on Zach Bogosian to send a backhander along the ice to the far side post. The goal was better than the dribbler looked because Virtanen dove the net, instead of going around it. It has been a marked improvement in the winger’s game.

Eriksson is running on energy

It takes extra effort to get to the net and not just hang around in the high slot.

Eriksson was coming off a two-goal effort Thursday in Boston where he got down low to shovel home a rebound and tip a point shot. On Saturday, he took a Markus Granlund feed from behind the net late in the first period and as he was being driven to the ice by Jake McCabe, he roofed the puck while falling to the ice.

Showing that kind of jam to hang in while being belted is going to go a long way on the ice and in the room.

Healthy Gudbranson has giddy-up

The big blueliner has been telling anybody within earshot that he’s feeling better, skating better and more confident with making sharp breakout passes and jumping up into the play.

Gubranson jumped up into the play in the second period and ripped a wrist shot from the high slot off the post. And then in the third period, his seeing-eye wrist shot got by a maze, including the outreached stick of Bo Horvat, to find the high short side to give the Canucks a two-goal cushion.

Goldy the good and not so good

Goldobin has scored since the season opener, but there’s reason to believe the Russian winger might be finding some mojo with Virtanen and Pettersson.

Goldobin played one of the best periods of the season with two good scoring chances in the opening frame — including a quick-release wrister from a sharp angle — and also had a takeaway. He then missed the net with two second-period shots but also had two gaffes. He also failed to keep the puck at the offensive blueline as his line applied pressure and tried a tricky cross-ice, breakout pass that was picked off for a Sabres chance.

Next Game


Vancouver Canucks at New York Rangers

4 p.m., Madison Square Garden, SNETP, SNET 650 AM

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