BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Craig Anderson showed he’s still capable of making numerous clutch saves. The Buffalo Sabres’ 41-year-old goalie also isn’t bad at cracking a few jokes between periods, either.
Anderson opened his 20th NHL season getting the last laugh by stopping 35 shots in a 4-1 win over one of his former teams, the Ottawa Senators, on Thursday night.
It was during the second intermission in which Anderson delivered an amusing message to settle Buffalo’s young group of players, and following a period in which he stopped Ottawa’s Tyler Motte and Tim Stultze on separate breakaway attempts.
“I came in and told the guys I’m 80% on breakaways, so I’ve stopped four,” he said, referring to a couple of other stops he made in the first period. “The fifth one is probably going to go in, so we should probably clean that up.”
It was a vintage comment from a vintage goalie, who so much enjoyed playing in Buffalo last season that he elected against retirement to return for one more year.
“I think it’s just keeping the room light,” said Anderson, who earned his 309th career victory, which ranks fifth among American-born goalies. “It’s one of those things where there was no panic, and the guys settled in after that.”
After spotting the Senators the opening goal, Rasmus Dahlin and rookie JJ Peterka scored 2:54 apart in the second period. Victor Olofsson sealed the victory by scoring two empty-net goals in the final 42 seconds.
The Sabres began carrying over the momentum from closing last season showing signs of jelling in winning 16 of their final 27 games. Though Buffalo set an NHL record for missing the playoffs for an 11th straight season, the fifth-place finish in the Atlantic Division was its best since placing third in 2011-12.
Senators captain Brady Tkachuk snapped in a shot from the left circle on a 3-on-2 break to open the scoring midway through the first period. The Senators were undone by their power play, which finished 0 of 4, including failing to convert a two-man advantage spanning 49 seconds in the second period.
“We got to score on the power play, which has been real good for us but tonight wasn’t,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. “Execution. I think the guys wanted it too much probably and just were squeezing maybe. Didn’t go in the net. But there was plenty of chances there, just doesn’t go in.”
Anton Forsberg stopped 32 shots in opening the season as the Senators starter in place of Cam Talbot, who is expected to miss another four to six weeks with an upper-body injury.
With Bills star quarterback Josh Allen in attendance and wearing a Sabres’ No. 89 Alex Tuch jersey, Peterka scored his first career NHL goal to tie the score 4:31 into the second period by completing a give-and-go with linemate Dylan Cozens on a rush up the right wing.
Dahlin then did much of the hefty lifting in scoring the go-ahead goal. Dahlin started the play by gaining the Senators blue line before dishing a pass and heading to the front of the net. The defenseman was left there alone when he was set up by a pass from Peyton Krebs from behind the Ottawa net.
Sabres coach Don Granato chalked up both teams’ inconsistencies to opening-game jitters and credited Anderson for buying time for Buffalo to finally find its groove.
Tremendous, tremendous job tonight because we don’t win that game tonight without him holding things down at really key moments,” Granato said. “If you fall behind the way we were squeezing our stick at times, that’s not a good recipe.”
Anderson’s best save came with 7:40 remaining, when he dived and poked the puck off of the stick of Stutzle driving in from left circle. Anderson also got his arm out to stop Claude Giroux’s snap shot on a 2-on-1 break with under three minutes left.
“Yeah, I blacked out,” Anderson said, referring to his poke-check on Stutzle. “I wasn’t about to kind of just let him have a freebie and I took my chances. And, you know, I don’t know, maybe next time I’ll get beat on it and I’ll look silly. But for us tonight, it worked.”
The Sabres held a pregame ceremony honoring the families of those shot in a racially motivated attack at a Buffalo supermarket in May. Both teams then gathered behind the family members on the ice during a moment of silence. The Sabres announced they will have the words, “Choose Love,” on their helmets this season.
Senators: At the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Sabres: Host the Florida Panthers on Saturday.
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