BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Casey Mittelstadt and Devon Levi kept the Sabres in the playoff hunt for at least another day.
Mittelstadt scored the deciding goal in a 3-2 shootout victory against the New York Rangers on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, after netting the tying goal in the third period, and Levi stopped four of five shootout attempts to cap a 26-save performance for the rookie goaltender’s fourth win in five starts.
Winning for the fifth time in six games, Buffalo (40-32-7) moved within four points of the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Trying to hold off the longest postseason drought in NHL history from extending to a 12th season, the Sabres avoided elimination Monday with losses by the New York Islanders (91 points) and Florida Panthers (92 points). The Pittsburgh Penguins (90 points) play at Chicago on Tuesday night, while the Sabres continue their back-to-back road trip against Lindy Ruff and the New Jersey Devils.
Playing meaningful hockey in April, the Sabres remain mathematically alive for a playoff berth entering the 80th game of the season for the first time since 2011 when they were eliminated with a loss in game 81 to begin the current postseason absence.
“We kept battling and battling and found a way to win,” Mittelstadt said. ”We’re just going to keep playing hard, stick together and keep going.”
The 21-year-old Levi joined Tom Barrasso and Don Edwards as the only Sabres goalies to win four of five games to start their careers. Through his first five games, Levi has a a .908 save percentage and a 2.90 goals-against average.
“It’s so special to be here with this group of guys,″ said Levi, who denied Patrick Kane, Mika Zibanejad and Panarin in the shootout. “I’m having a blast. I hope we can keep it moving … I just have fun and try to stop pucks. The guys are awesome. I just did my job and came out with the win.”
JJ Peterka also had a goal for the Sabres, the rookie’s 12th of the season, set up by rookie linemate Jack Quinn, and rookie defenseman Owen Power scored in the shootout.
Alex Tuch tallied his 40th assist when Mittelstadt put back the rebound at 8:13 into the third period to tie the game at 2-2. Tuch joined Rasmus Dahlin (57), Tage Thompson (47), Jeff Skinner (42) and Mittelstadt (41) in giving the Sabres five skaters with at least 40 assists for the first time since the 1975-76 season (Jocelyn Guevremont, Don Luce, Gilbert Perreault, Craig Ramsay and René Robert).
Mittelstadt’s third goal in two games gave him a career-high 13 on the season. He has 12 points in his last eight games.
Artemi Panarin scored twice for New York and Igor Shesterkin finished with 36 saves. Rangers have earned points in six straight games (3-0-3), with two losses coming against the Sabres.
Mittelstadt beat Shesterkin on a backhand with a dazzling move in the fifth round of the shootout.
Panarin scored twice about 10 minutes apart in the second period to give New York a 2-1 lead.
Each of the last four meetings between the Sabres and Rangers have gone beyond regulation.
Jonah Bronstein joined the WIVB squad in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. The Buffalonian has covered the Bills, Sabres, Bandits, Bisons, colleges, high schools and other notable sporting events in Western New York since 2005, for publications including The Associated Press, The Buffalo News, and Niagara Gazette. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.