BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The future is now.
Devon Levi’s debut lived up to the hype Friday night. The prized rookie goaltender inspired Sabreland to chant his name after several of his 31 saves, 19 of which came during the third period after the team store had sold out of his jersey, and Jeff Skinner’s goal at 1:50 of overtime gave Buffalo a 3-2 win against the New York Rangers.
Skinner spun around and pointed at Levi while the goal horn blared, making the 21-year-old goalie the center of attention as the crowd of 18,009 at KeyBank Center danced along to Skinner’s goal song, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
“I don’t know if you know, but they were trying to keep him in a cage,” said Skinner, reference a comment Levi made about keeping the beast in a cage after immigration paperwork processing held Levi out of practice for a week after he signed with Buffalo. “I was just trying to let the beast go,” Skinner said.
Buffalo unleashed Levi in a high-pressure situation at home against one of the East Conference’s beastly lineups. The youngest goalie to start a game for the Sabres in 27 years rose to the occasion, shutting out the Rangers for the first 32 minutes and shutting the door over the final 12 to bring the Sabres within five points of the final wild-card playoff spot.
“The NHL is hockey,” an assured Levi said afterward. “It’s just the game of hockey. It’s the game that I’ve been playing my whole life. There’s a lot of good players out there, but it’s been my dream to be challenged by the best and finally here. I have an opportunity right now.”
Levi was named the first star of the night and received the game puck, which he said he would give to his parents.
“It was a dream come true,” Levi said. I’ve dreamt of that moment my whole life. To have my family and friends here as well, who have been dreaming for this moment also their whole lives with me, it’s just incredible to have that support.” … The guys played a hell of a job in front of me, letting me see the puck and just letting me do my thing. …
“The game went by fast. I was having fun. I guess when you’re having fun, things go fast. It honestly just went by in a blur. It was just, like, amazing.”
Levi’s best save came late in the second period when he sprawled across the crease to stop a one-timer by Kaapo Kakko.
At 21 years, 94 days, Levi is the third-youngest Sabres goalie to win his NHL debut, after Tom Barrasso (18 years, 188 days on Oct. 5, 1983) and Daren Puppa (20 years, 223 days on Nov. 1 1985). His 19 saves in the third period are the third-most ever by a Sabres goalie. The other rookie on Buffalo’s roster, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen holds the record with 21, and franchise legend Ryan Miller had 20.
Levi, who played at Northeastern University the past two seasons, signed a three-year entry-level contract on March 17. He started Friday following his first two practices with the team this week.
J.J. Peterka and Jordan Greenway also scored for the Sabres, who recovered after giving up a 2-0 lead to improve to 3-0-1 in their last four games.
In the extra period, Skinner gathered the puck after a pass from Owen Power, skated between a pair of defenders and fired a shot past Halak. It was Skinner’s 32nd goal of the season.
Peterka gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead with 8:40 left in the first period when he buried a no-look backhand pass from Dylan Cozens for his 11th.
Greenway made it 2-0 at 7:39 of the second when he took a pass from Casey Mittelstadt up the right side and one-handed a shot past Jaroslav Halak for his fourth.
Kakko and Adam Fox scored for New York, which has lost two straight but pulled three points behind second-place New Jersey in the Metropolitan Division. Halak made 31 saves.
Kakko got the Rangers on the scoreboard when he batted a floating puck past Levi after Filip Chytil’s shot was blocked with 7:43 remaining in the middle period.
Fox tied it 2-2 when he poked a loose puck during a net-mouth scrum past Levi at 9:45 of the third for his 12th.
Sabres play at Philadelphia on Saturday night to open a three-game trip.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.