BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Perfect it wasn’t. The Buffalo Sabres still made it to 10.
After squandering a 2-0 lead in the final 8½ minutes of the third period, Jeff Skinner scored 1:41 into overtime to seal a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.
“Well, you can count the gray hairs on the back of my head,” coach Phil Housley said with a chuckle. “But the guys dug in.”
Buffalo matched its longest winning streak in franchise history, and is enjoying the NHL’s best run since the Columbus Blue Jackets won 16 in a row from Nov. 29, 2016, to Jan. 3, 2017.
Very few of the Sabres’ wins have come easily since their last loss on Nov. 4.
Nine of the 10 games have been decided by one goal, and this marked the seventh one decided after regulation — and third in a row.
“When it’s a tight game, we feel confident. If we’re down we don’t panic,” said defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who opened the scoring with a deke around Brent Burns. “We believe.”
Skinner sealed the victory with his team-leading 19th goal, and fifth in five games.
The play began when Sharks goalie Martin Jones poked the puck away from Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who was driving to the net from the right circle. Skinner followed by beating Evander Kane to the loose puck, faked going to his forehand and backhanded a shot behind Jones.
“I lost sight of it, but Ras made a great play, made their goalie commit,” Skinner said. “I just kind of walked into one that was in the slot.”
Nathan Beaulieu also scored for Buffalo. Carter Hutton stopped the first 32 shots he faced and 36 overall to extend his personal-best winning streak to eight, during which he’s allowed just 15 goals.
Joe Pavelski scored twice for the Sharks, while Jones stopped 28 shots and had little chance on any of the three goals.
The Sharks, coming off a 6-0 loss at Vegas on Saturday, earned a point to move into a tie with idle Calgary for the Pacific Division lead.
“We got shut out the other night, but all in all that game wasn’t us. Tonight was better,” Pavelski said.
It’s been a night-and-day season for the Sabres, who suddenly find themselves atop NHL’s overall standings, one point ahead of Tampa Bay and Nashville, after both teams lost on Tuesday.
By improving to 17-6-2, the Sabres are eight wins short of matching last season’s total, when they became the NHL’s first team to finish 31st in the standings following the addition of the expansion Golden Knights. Buffalo has also won six straight at home to mark its best streak since a 7-0 run from Nov. 28 to Dec. 15, 2014.
“Obviously, it was really emotional last year being so bad,” Beaulieu said. “I think everyone took it personally this offseason and it’s showing.”
The fans became so caught up in the excitement with Buffalo up 2-0 in the third period that they began counting to nine and then chanting: “We want 10!”
Buffalo has won 10 straight twice before, more recently by going 10-0 to open the 2006-07 season.
The Sabres can even poke fun at themselves, with much of it directed at Ristolainen’s goal celebration in which he stomped his feet and twirled his stick as if it were a lasso.
“It was embarrassing. It was awful. He ruined a beautiful goal,” Beaulieu said. “We’ll have to work on it. But if he keeps finding the back of the net, it’s fine by me.”
NOTES: After playing at Toronto on Wednesday, Sharks D Erik Karlsson will make his first return to Ottawa on Saturday since the Senators traded their former captain and two-time Norris Trophy winner to San Jose in September. ... Kane received mostly a warm welcome upon being introduced early in the first period in his first game in Buffalo since the Sabres traded him to San Jose in February. ... Sabres LW Conor Sheary missed his first game with an undisclosed injury, a day after leaving practice early.
Sharks: Continue their five-game trip at Toronto on Wednesday night.
Sabres: Open a three-game trip at Tampa Bay on Thursday night.
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