BUFFALO, N.Y. â€” Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres put aside their concerns for hospitalized teammate Kyle Okposo for a moment to close their home schedule with a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s good ending on a good note,” Eichel said following a win that snapped the Canadiens’ five-game winning streak on Wednesday night.
The frustrating part was waving to the fans for one last time knowing Buffalo’s season will end at Tampa Bay on Sunday without a playoff berth for a sixth consecutive year.
“It’s a tough feeling when you’re leaving the ice and it’s another failed season and you’re done,” Eichel said.
Making the game even more difficult was the uncertainty over Okposo, a href=’https://apnews.com/e36a6ac1641f44b4a2376cfac12e0758/Sabres’-Okposo-in-hospital-having-tests-to-determine-illness’who has been sidelined with an undisclosed illness for more than a week/a.
“We all care really much about Kyle,” Eichel said. “It’s never easy to see him go through what he’s been going through not feeling well. We just all want to be here to support him and wish him all the best. Hopefully he gets healthy soon.”
A person with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Associated Press that Okposo has spent the past three days in Buffalo General Hospital’s neuro surgical intensive care unit undergoing a battery of tests. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Sabres have not revealed Okposo has been hospitalized.
Without disclosing the nature of the illness, coach Dan Bylsma would only say he’s “very concerned.”
The Sabres released a statement during the game saying Okposo continues to be treated by team doctors while dealing with symptoms from an illness.
Rasmus Ristolainen and Tyler Ennis scored, and Robin Lehner stopped 31 shots in a game the Sabres hung on to win after building a 2-0 lead through two periods. The Sabres hit a milestone by finishing with a 20-15-6 home record to reach the 20-win mark for the first time since a 21-12-8 finish in 2011-12.
Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens and Carey Price stopped 28 shots in what was essentially a mean-nothing game between two Atlantic Division rivals.
Montreal had little left to play for in having already secured the team’s fourth playoff berth in five years. The Canadiens were coming off a 4-1 win at Florida on Monday in which they clinched the division title and guaranteed the Eastern Conference’s second seed once the playoff open next week.
“We’ve done a pretty good job to date of staying focused and trying to get better as a team but sometimes you’ve got to give you your team a pass,” coach Claude Julien said. “Tonight wasn’t a terrible game. It was just an ordinary game in our minds.”
Ristolainen opened the scoring 6:01 in with a slap shot from the right point that beat a screened Price over the right shoulder.
Ennis made it 2-0 midway through the second period. Evander Kane set up the play when his bad-angle shot to the right of the net caromed off Price and into the slot, stopping at the feet of Montreal forward Artturi Lehkonen. Before Lehkonen could play the puck, Ennis drove in and slapped at the puck beating Price over the left shoulder.
Plekanec cut Buffalo’s lead 46 seconds into the third period, when he completed a three-way passing play. The goal was Plekanec’s 226th goal with Montreal, moving him into 16th place on the team list, one ahead of Stephane Richer.
NOTES: Canadiens D Shea Weber (lower body) missed his second straight game and remains in Montreal to rehab what Julien said was not “a serious injury.” Weber is expected to be healthy for the playoffs next week. … Sabres D Jake McCabe was benched after committing several turnovers that led directly to opponent’s goals in each of the past two games. … Canadiens C Brian Flynn returned after missing 12 games with an upper body injury.
Canadiens: Host Tampa Bay on Friday.
Sabres: At Florida on Saturday.
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John Wawrow, The Associated Press