Linus Ullmark is holding up his end of the bargain for the Buffalo Sabres.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I mapped out why the Buffalo Sabres needed to make a big move for future Hall of Famer goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and, while I still believe that, Linus Ullmark is rapidly proving that he should be considered the No. 1 goalie in Buffalo.
After missing a couple of games following the sad passing of his Father, Ullmark has been almost unstoppable for the Sabres since his return and he’s played a huge and critical role in his team collecting at least a point in each of their last five games (3-0-2).
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That was none more so evident than in today’s matinee showdown against the New Jersey Devils at the KeyBank Center, the first game of a back-to-back set. Ullmark was sensational as Buffalo won 4-3 in a Shootout, stopping 31 of the 34 shots he faced, including 9 of 10 shorthanded, and he stood on his head at times.
There wasn’t a lot he could do about any of the Devils’ goals, maybe the third at a push, but he battled hard all night long and pulled off some absolutely sublime saves to give the Sabres every possible chance to win, which they ultimately did thanks to Jack Eichel who scored the only goal in the Shootout with Ullmark stopping attempts from Jesper Bratt and Nikita Gusev.
It has been the same old story for Ullmark who has stood tall time and time again for Buffalo, displaying the hallmarks of any elite goalie and No. 1 starter in the NHL which is to give your team the best possible chance to win on a night-to-night basis, and the 27-year-old is certainly doing exactly that right now.
Linus Ullmark morphing into the No. 1 starter the Buffalo Sabres so crave
Ullmark was huge in the Shootout win over the Washington Capitals with 28 saves on 31 shots and three stops in the Shootout, he stopped 28 saves again in the 3-2 success over the New York Rangers just days later and he was absolutely outstanding in the Overtime loss to the Blueshirts on Thursday, pulling off highlight-reel saves to deny both Mika Zibanejad and Alexis Lafreniere in regulation before he was eventually beaten by the latter in OT.
With Buffalo Head Coach Ralph Krueger opting to ride the hot hand, Ullmark got the start against the New Jersey Devils today and he continued his hot streak, battling hard while facing plenty of traffic on every shot the Devils got to the net. And that was the most impressive aspect of the show put on by the 163rd overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft; he had to deal with a lot of traffic and screens for the majority of the game as New Jersey outshot the Sabres 34-31.
He didn’t have it easy and was sometimes left out to dry by his defense, but Ullmark didn’t cough up any juicy rebounds and he diverted the puck to the corners when he couldn’t hold and cover up. He’s playing with huge amounts of confidence right now and it is showing in his hugely-impressive play on the ice, with the 27-year-old currently boasting a 2.56 Goals Against Average and a .914 Save Percentage through six starts.
I mean, just check out this absolutely ridiculous save on a Jack Hughes shot, which came after the Sabres turned over the puck and Jesper Bratt, Andreas Johnsson and Jack Hughes played a game of tic-tac-toe before the latter let rip with a shot, but Linus Ullmark somehow adjusted his body and got across to somehow keep a wicked wrister out, pushing aggressively from right to left to cover up any net and ensure that he at least got something on the puck.
It was just a stunning save and it was better than the ones against the Rangers on Thursday night, which is saying a lot, but that just perfectly illustrates just how good Linus Ullmark has been as of late, and his job has been made harder by the fact that the Sabres aren’t blowing away opponents despite boasting a plethora of offensive weapons. Instead, they have won each of their last three games by just one goal and that puts tremendous pressure on the goaltender to play a near-perfect game in order to give his team a chance to win.
Linus Ullmark has certainly done that over the last few games and, while he will need to carve out a larger body of work in order truly establish himself as a true No. 1 starter in the National Hockey League, he is certainly showing right now what he is capable of with a string of eye-catching performances dominated by a plethora of jaw-dropping saves, and he may well be convincing Buffalo Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams that a trade for a legit starter isn’t as urgent as it once was only a week or so again. And, if Linus Ullmark can indeed keep this up, then he will give the Buffalo Sabres every chance of making the postseason out of the ultra-competitive East Division and that would make him a hero in Buffalo forever.