BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A quick getaway to the Bahamas did wonders to recharge St. Louis Blues goalie Joel Hofer and forward Jake Neighbours for the stretch run of the season.
Hofer stopped 33 shots and Neighours scored twice as the Blues returned from their bye week off with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
“Me and him were soaking in the sun,” said Neighours, who opened the scoring by sweeping in a bouncing puck 12:53 in, and then sealed the win by converting Brayden Schenn’s rebound with 1:57 left. “I was with him all break, so we were getting ready and prepared for this moment, and he obviously had a great game.”
Hofer could say the same of Neighbours, two young players who developed a bond in the minors and being counted on to help the in-transition Blues continue their playoff push.
“We had a lot of fun. I thought we were obviously focused in for this the whole time we were gone for this game," said Hofer, who has won three straight starts and improved to 10-8 overall. "Obviously we knew it was a big one so just happy we got the two points.”
Jordan Kyrou scored the go-ahead goal 4:32 into the second period in a game the Blues never trailed. Off since a 1-0 loss to Columbus on Jan. 30, St. Louis won its sixth of seven outings to maintain the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
Kyle Okposo was credited for Buffalo’s lone goal after being the last Sabres player to touch the puck before Blues defenseman Matthew Kessel banked his clearing attempt off the skate of teammate Oskar Sundqvist and into the net.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 23 shots and dropped to 6-5 in his past 11 starts despite allowing 19 goals over that span. Buffalo has lost two straight and scored twice since returning from its bye week off with a 2-1 home loss to Dallas on Tuesday.
Slow starts continue being a major reason for Buffalo’s struggles in a season the team’s already in jeopardy of extending its NHL-record playoff drought to a 13th consecutive season. The Sabres dropped to 6-22-3 when allowing the opening goal.
Coach Don Granato fixed the blame solely on his players refusing to establish a net-front presence.
“We need to elevate work ethic, compete level, specifically to the net. Period,” Granato said. “We didn’t go to the net. I don’t think we were willing to work. We didn’t work hard enough to the front of the net."
Kyrou scored his 15th of the season off a fortunate bounce.
In attempting to feed Pavel Buchnevich to the right of the net, Colton Parayko’s pass instead caromed off the boards, off Luukkonen and directly to Kyrou, who snapped in a shot inside the right post.
The Blues caught a break with 3:45 remaining when a video review nullified a double-minor penalty for high sticking against Parayko, who caught Buffalo forward Jordan Greenway across the mouth while battling for the puck in front of the St. Louis net. Officials erased the penalty by ruling Greenway had his head down when being struck by Parayko.
Blues: Play at the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday.
Sabres: Host the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday.
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