For a little while longer, the Buffalo Sabres remain in the playoff chase. On Saturday, they won a crucial game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Mostly, the credit goes to the standout play of defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. He scored a goal, set up two others, and put his body in harm’s way to make a crucial shot block.
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But Dahlin had help. Casey Mittelstadt also scored twice, and Devon Levi stopped 32 shots. That kept the Sabres’ slim playoff chances alive and guaranteed they would not be eliminated from playoff contention at least for another game. That game comes quickly when they play the New York Rangers on Monday (April 10).
With the win, the Sabres matched their best season for wins since 2011-12. As well, Dahlin jumped up to join Sabres’ icon Phil Housley as the only defenseman to score more than 70 points during a single season.
Item One: Rasmus Dahlin Scores Power-Play Goal
In short, Dahlin had an impressive performance on Saturday against the Hurricanes. He scored a power-play goal and added two even-strength assists. His second-period goal also ended a 28-game drought.
In fact, Dahlin had a significant role in the Sabres’ first three goals. Buffalo fell behind 2-1 early, but his play turned the tide. His crucial block of Martin Necas’ shot not only prevented a goal but also led directly to Tage Thompson’s go-ahead goal.
Dahlin also assisted on Mittelstadt’s second goal with a nifty move. He eluded defenders and passed the puck behind his back to Mittelstadt. Mittelstadt scored easily and was so impressed with Dahlin’s play that he encouraged him to lead the celebration back to the bench (from “Observations: Another ‘special’ performance by Rasmus Dahlin keeps Sabres alive,” Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News, 08/04/2023).
For the Sabres, Dahlin was the standout player of the night and was key in helping Buffalo win. On the season, he has career-best numbers of 15 goals and 57 assists (for 72 points) in 74 games.
Item Two: Casey Mittelstadt Scores Two Goals
Mittelstadt scored twice in the Sabres’ 4-3 win over the Hurricanes. Those goals included the game-tying goal late in the second period. With that goal, he snapped a 17-game goal-scoring drought.
However, Mittelstadt has been an assist machine recently. He’s registered nine assists over his last six games. He now has 12 goals and 41 assists (for 53 points) in 78 games this season.
Item Three: Devon Levi Seems to Be the Sabres’ Goalie of Choice
Levi has taken the Sabres by storm. The rookie goalie started another game against the Hurricanes on Saturday and put up yet another win. He made 31 saves to help his team take home the victory. It was his fourth start over the team’s last five games, and he’s won three of them. His recent play has helped give the Sabres a chance to stay in the playoff hunt.
He’s had one poor NHL game when he struggled against the Detroit Red Wings. In that game, he gave up six goals on 32 shots. However, he bounced back with a solid game against the Hurricanes – and that’s a feat because Carolina is second overall in the NHL standings with 109 points.
Item Four: Levi Is a Rarity in the NHL
Levi is rare in the NHL. He’s a rookie goalie who’s never played in the minors. Although conventional wisdom suggests that a goalie needs to spend time there, Levi doesn’t seem to need it. Over the past week or so, the Sabres have trusted him to carry the load in games they’ve absolutely needed to win. He’s come through.
He’s won three of his first four NHL games. And, in doing so, he’s put up a 3.17 goals-against average with a save percentage of .904. That’s impressive considering the youngster was drafted in the seventh round of the NHL Entry Draft just two years ago.
What’s Next for the Sabres?
On Monday, the Rangers (with a record of 47-21-12 and sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference) host the Sabres (who are 39-32-7, and sitting in 10th place). In their last game, the Rangers beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-0 on April 8.
Will the Sabres start Levi again? I’m guessing the answer is yes.
The team certainly trusts him; and, his performances on the ice have shown that he can handle the pressure of being a starting NHL goalie. Can he continue to excel at the same level he’s been playing? I’m sure the organization wants to find out the answer to that question.