Wild coach Bruce Boudreau considered the upcoming schedule that saw his team face Central Division rivals in the next three games.
He also realized all but one NHL team was in action Wednesday, meaning a chunk of points were going to be doled out.
And since Boudreau doesn’t want the Wild to fall behind the pack of teams clumped together in the standings, he decided the Wild had to win against the Sabres.
So he shortened his bench, sitting defenseman Mike Reilly in the third period.
“I was the one that said, ‘Just play to win,’” Boudreau said. “If we had to play two defensemen, we would have. I thought this was an important game for us to win.”
Boudreau’s strategy worked, as the Wild outlasted the Sabres 5-4 to sit 10-8-3 (23 points) before the team’s critical three-game set against the Avalanche, Blues and Jets.
Reilly, who was on the ice for two of the Sabres’ goals and committed a pair of penalties, was the only one who didn’t earn a shift in the third, but a handful of players’ minutes got cut in the period – including Reilly's defensive partner Gustav Olofsson and the fourth line.
“They’re young,” Boudreau said of Reilly and Olofsson. “You gotta keep throwing them into the fire. That’s the only way they’re going to get better. If you completely sit them all the time, then they’re going to be like that every game. Sometimes you have to take your lumps and keep playing them.”
Here’s what else to watch for after the Wild’s win over the Sabres.
- The Wild banked two points, but this was far from a sterling effort.
Buffalo had dropped six straight and ranks last in the Eastern Conference, but it hung around with the Wild amid defensive breakdowns and spotty goaltending.
“It definitely wasn’t our best game, and we were sloppy for a long time and had the lead,” winger Nino Niederreiter said. “We gave them life again. It was always back and forth. At the end of the day, it was good that we closed them out. But it definitely wasn’t as good as we wanted to play.”
- Niederreiter and winger Mikael Granlund continued their respective scoring tears.
For Niederreiter, he’s in the midst of a five-game goal streak, four-game power-play goal streak and seven-game point streak. And Granlund has four goals in his last two games and nine points during a five-game point streak.
“If we didn’t have that, then we wouldn’t have any scoring,” Boudreau said. “ … I’m just glad somebody’s scoring.”
- Winger Tyler Ennis tallied his first goal in 10 games in his first game in Buffalo since an offseason trade from the Sabres to the Wild that also included winger Marcus Foligno. The goal came off a bad angle, as Ennis whipped a backhand with his back to the net from almost near the corner.
“It’s funny how it all works out,” he said. “I had so many chances, breakaways, posts the last little while here and just a shot from a tough angle goes in.”