LAS VEGAS – For the second straight game on this wild ride, the Buffalo Sabers gave Oko-Pekka Lokonen a 3-0 lead and then left it almost alone in the third period.
As they like to say in this city, the kid was aces both times.
On Thursday in Colorado, the Sabers trailed, 17-1, in the final 20 minutes, but pulled off 39 saves from Lokonen in the 4-2 victory. On Monday at the T-Mobile Arena, it was more of the same.
Luukkonen tallied 41 saves, including a penalty on Jonathan Marchessault with 6:57 to play, as the Sabers relied on the young goaltender to bring them home with a perfect road trip after a 3-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Sabers improved to 16-14-2 with their fourth straight win and are 9-3-2 in their last 14 games. Going 3-0 on the trip, they’ve jumped all the way Fourth in the Atlantic Division, passing Detroit and taking the tiebreaker advantage in Florida with a win on Monday. They also moved within four points of the Eastern Conference Finals slot, currently held by the New York Islanders.
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It was also Buffalo’s first win at T-Mobile, as they have been 0-3-1 since Vegas entered the NHL in 2017.
Vegas outscored the Sabers, 43-18, including a brutal 23-5 advantage in a third period played almost entirely in Buffalo territory. The high risk chances of the match were 16-3, According to NaturalStatTrick.com, But Lokonen was up to the task.
Lokonen has improved to 5-3-1 since being called up from Rochester. He has stopped 108 of 115 shots in the last three games (.939) and 80 of 84 in the last two games (.952). They are considered the defining moments of the 23-year-old’s NHL career.
On the penalty kick, Marchesault tried to hit the ball but he held the ball too long and didn’t have a net to shoot it. Luukkonen made a save and kicked the ball into the corner in celebration.
“You don’t want to make the first move,” Lukonen said. “You have to wait for the player to come out. It worked really well this time. As a goalkeeper when you can do a game like that which might change the direction of the game at that point, you feel good.”
– Buffalo Hockey Moments (SabresPlays) December 20, 2022
“He won the game for us. He stood on his head all night,” said Taj Thompson, who scored his 26th goal of the season during a three-goal second half. “‘Obi’ stole that for us. That’s big. You need those. That was the reason we won tonight. It was a great performance by him.”
Luukkonen has been sharp since the opening encounter. He mainly stopped William Carlsson on his own when the game was scoreless in the first period and Carlsson missed another good chance later in the first over, looking to the rafters in disgust after another chance in the period when he went wide.
LAS VEGAS – An eight-game losing streak in November could have sent the Buffalo Sabers flying…
Lokonen was equally sharp in the second, his best save coming against Golden Knight captain Mark Stone in a clean breakaway.
“He always takes the first shot, so we have to make sure he doesn’t get any rebounds,” said Rasmus Dahlen. “We had some breakaways, some 2v1s today against us and he stopped them all. We’re lucky to have him.”
“The last time I was here (2019-20) he was a different goalkeeper,” said defender Lawrence Bellot. “Now when I come back and see him, his confidence level is so high and he’s matured so much in his game. It’s great to see. He’s really a guy you can count on and in the end I know he’s going to make those big balls for us.”
“It was this guy three weeks ago,[people]were ready to say he couldn’t do it,” coach Don Granato said. “I love our team. This is where you stand by your mates and then support them through the challenges. And he’s found ways to handle adverse situations and adapt and improve. And that’s a great sign for him because he’s improved every game he’s played on that call-up. It was tonight again, An amazing effort by him. Very focused, very communicative.”
Luukkonen was finally knocked down in a breakaway from Chandler Stephenson at 3:54 of the third that took the Golden Knights to within 3-1. It came just seconds after Adin Hill single-handedly stopped Alex Tosh with a chance that could have put the Sabers up 4-0. Riley Smith scored at 2:21 to cut the deficit to one but Vegas didn’t have much chance to tie the game.
Here are more notes about the game:
The Sabers opened the scoring at 1:53 of a second on Jeff Skinner’s 16th goal of the season, a shot from the left circle off a slick cross from Toch.
Thompson made it 2-0 with his 26th of the season at 7:15, maneuvering through the hole to beat Hill after good pressure in the area by defenseman Casey Fitzgerald in the area that popped free of the puck.
– Buffalo Hockey Moments (SabresPlays) December 20, 2022
Leading 3-0 at 13:28 on the Lasers hit to the top left corner by Pilut after a face-off win from Peyton Cribbs. It was his second career goal in the NHL and first since 2019.
“It’s great to get that monkey off my back,” Bellotte said. “It’s been a while so it’s great.”
2 Eichel-less Vegas house woes
Former Sabers captain Jack Eichel missed his fifth consecutive game with a lower-body injury, while Vegas are up 2-3 without him. Things got especially bad at home for the first team in the Western Conference.
Vegas was a league-best 14-2-1 on the road, going 8-9-0 at home and just 1-6 in their last seven games. The Golden Knights only scored 11 goals in those matches.
• Thompson succeeded in achieving two goals from Conor McDavid’s lead in the National Hockey League. He has five goals and four assists in his last four games, 13 goals and 11 assists in his last 11 games and 12 goals and nine assists in nine games in December.
• Skinner has eight straight points with seven goals and eight assists in that stretch.
• It was his twentieth assist touch of the season. He has seven points in the last four games and 13 points in the last nine games.
Granato made two line switches in the second period, notably breaking up Dylan Cozens’ ineffective baby line between Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka. Granato Tyson placed Ghost with Kyle Okposo and Zimgos Jurgenson in an effort to create a defensive line to protect the lead while Cousins played Casey Mittelstadt and Viktor Olofsson.
Quinn (9:45) and Petrka (9:27) each played one 33-second shift in the third period. Neither of them shot on goal in the match.
The Sabers continued without three defensemen as Owen Bauer and Jacob Bryson sat out while Henry Jockeyharjo did not come on the trip. Power and Bryson are listed as day to day while Jokiharju is listed as week to week.
Ilya Lyubushkin returned to running back for the first time since taking howitzer Steven Stamkos off his leg in a late overtime November 29 loss to Tampa Bay. Jeremy Davis, who made his Sabers debut Saturday in Arizona, is back in Rochester.
The front scratches were again Rasmus Asplund and Vinnie Hinostroza.
The Sabers will start on Tuesday and return to practice on Wednesday. They play their last game before Christmas Friday night at the KeyBank Center against Tampa Bay. The Sabers are tied 1-9-2 in their last 12 games against the Lightning and 0-1-1 this year, with Steven Stamkos’ overtime goal giving Tampa a 6-5 victory in the teams’ last meeting on November 29 in Buffalo. .
The Lightning have averaged 5.6 goals per game in the last seven meetings against the Sabers, with 11 goals in the two games this year.