BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Dennis Gilbert grew up around Sabreland, the nephew of a former team executive who spent time playing for the Buffalo Junior Sabres. Gilbert, a St. Joe’s graduate, savored playing his first NHL game in his hometown Saturday, scoring the winning goal and adding an assist in the Calgary Flames’ 7-2 victory.
Gilbert even enjoyed hearing audible frustration from the Sabres fans in the crowd of 18,356 at KeyBank Center, drowning out his cheering section in the suites.
“I had like 100 people here, so I obviously wanted to play well,” said Gilbert, who received a loud ovation from family and friends when he walked out into the stands after the game. “But the win was the most important thing. I will say it was nice hearing a couple boos at some points during the game because they were getting rattled at how we were playing.”
The Sabres were thoroughly outplayed in their first game back from the All-Star break. They managed to open a 2-0 lead on Tage Thompson’s 35th goal of the season, and Casey Mittelstadt’s eighth, despite being out-shot 11-3 in the first period. But the Flames surged for four goals in a five-minute span of the second and three in the third, leading to the Sabres’ most lopsided loss of the season.
“They came out and just punched us in the face,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “They just played better than us. I didn’t think we played great in the first, just a little bit rusty, but maybe a bit of a false sense of security being up two goals after the first period. Probably should’ve talked about it a little bit more after the first and try to get to our game. We just got pounded in the second period.”
Losing at home for the sixth time in eight games, the Sabres are 11-14-2 at KeyBank Center. They are the only NHL team with a winning record overall (26-21-4) and a losing record at home.
Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 33 of the 40 shots he faced, 30 of those coming in the first two periods. Buffalo had just four shots on goal through the first 30 minutes.
“We didn’t put enough pucks to the net, we overpassed, we wanted a prettier play,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We never found a rhythm even though we had some good energy in the first and then we died. The game looked to me like it was pretty simple: a team that’s already playing their third game coming back and a team that just had 10 days and didn’t play. We were one step off and I think it started cognitively and then manifested physically.”
The Sabres, who have one of the 10 best road records in the NHL (15-7-2) open a three-game trip Monday night in Los Angeles.
“It’s just a good time to kind of forget about this one and move on,” said Thompson, who returned from an upper-body injury that kept Buffalo’s leading scorer out of the NHL All-Star Game. “It’s a lot of hockey coming up and this road trip’s a big one for us. No time to dwell, we’ll just move forward. These are pretty big games here.”
Dillon Dube had a goal and three assists for Calgary and Tyler Toffoli had two goals and an assist. Jakob Pelletier, Mikael Backlund and Nazem Kadri also scored, while Jacob Markstrom made 21 saves.
Gilbert’s first goal in 11 games with Calgary was the defenseman’s second tally in 36 NHL appearances. He beat Luukkonen with a low slap shot to give the Flames a 3-2 lead at 4:04 into the second period.
“I was almost laughing that it went in,” Gilbert said. “It wasn’t a very good shot. It’s not exactly my calling card.”
“I’ll tell my kids one day that it went bar down,” Gilbert joked.
Gilbert assisted on the first of Toffoli’s goals in the third period, notching the first multi-point game of his NHL career.
“It was a good experience. I thought as a group, we maybe started a little bit slower than we would’ve liked, but we had a good response in between periods.”
Gilbert’s first NHL goal came in a win against the New York Islanders Dec. 27, 2019, when he was playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted Gilbert with the 91st pick of the third round in 2015.
After getting traded to Colorado in 2020, Gilbert played three NHL games with the Avalanche. He signed a two-year, $1.5 million contract with the Flames in July, and is averaging 10:52 of ice time in his 11 appearances this season.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.