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Skinner scores 30th but Sabres' late rally falls short against Hurricanes

Buffalo forward becomes 6th fastest player in franchise history to reach milestone

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - Some nights, the bounces just don't go your way.

The Buffalo Sabres fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 on Friday at PNC Arena with three of the four goals against going in off Sabres defensemen. 

Buffalo made a late push in the third period, and got within one - on a goal that went off a Hurricanes player, oddly enough - but were unable to get the tying goal past Curtis McElhinney. 

The result spoiled Jeff Skinner's return to Carolina. The Sabres forward, who acquired by Buffalo in an offseason trade with the Hurricanes, scored his 30th goal of the season.

It's the fourth time in his career that the newly named All-Star has hit the 30-goal mark. He is the first Sabres player to score 30 goals in a season since Jason Pominville did so in 2011-12.

Video: BUF@CAR: Hurricanes celebrate Skinner's return

Skinner's 44 games to reach the 30-goal mark tie Rick Martin (in 1971-72) as the sixth-fastest Sabre to score 30, behind Alexander Mogilny (30 GP in 1992-93), Pat LaFontaine (31 in 1991-92 and 42 in 1992-93), Gilbert Perreault (40 in 1977-78) and Rick Martin (41 in 1973-74), according to the NHL Public Relations Department. 

He's the second player to score 30 goals this season. Washington captain Alex Ovechkin leads the league with 32.

Tweet from @PR_NHL: Jeff Skinner is the fifth different @BuffaloSabres player to reach the 30-goal mark in a season in 45 or fewer appearances. #NHLStats #BUFvsCAR

It was announced earlier in the day that Skinner had won the "Last Men In" fan vote for the Atlantic Division. He'll be heading to San Jose at the end of the month with captain Jack Eichel for All-Star Weekend.

Poiminville and Kyle Okposo also scored against the Hurricanes. Carter Hutton made 26 saves. Okposo's goal came with 3:12 left in regulation, giving Buffalo a realistic shot at tying the game. 

Not earning two points, however, put a damper on any good news. 

"Those are tough bounces, but those bounces go both ways, I think, when you look at a hockey game when you look at over the course of the season. You just have to do a good job of working for your own bounces and eliminating as many opportunities as you can," Skinner said.

"We may have given a few too many rushes than we should've and Hutts made some big saves on those. They scored on some of those unlucky bounces. We didn't generate enough - pressure and the offensive zone time to get one of those bounces ourselves." 

Video: BUF Recap: Sabres edged by Hurricanes, 4-3

"I really like our attitude in the third, but it's just a little too late," coach Phil Housley said. "That's why it's important that throughout the 60 minutes, we've got to realize that every shift and every play matters." 

More offensive chances, the players believe, could come with stronger defensive play.

"We've got to clean up a little bit defensively to win more games consistently," Pominville said. "It was nice to see our fight back there. We fought back and found a way to give ourselves a chance. We came up short, but we've got to bounce back tomorrow. Obviously playing a good team, we've a got to make sure we're a little bit better defensively."

The Sabres have lost four in a row on the road and are 1-6-2 in their last nine away from KeyBank Center.

"I think we're giving up a lot and we're getting beat by teams that are just playing a simple game," Eichel said. "When we were having success earlier in the year, I know we were getting breaks and our goalies were playing well, but I thought we were just giving up less.

"Maybe it's defending, maybe it's decisions. I think it could be a combination of the two, but if we get back to just keeping it simple, trying to get pucks below their goal line, getting pucks to the net, I think it's a recipe for success. 

"Just try to do that tomorrow night. Obviously, you want to limit the amount of times you let them get odd-man rushes against and the more time we play in their zone, I think the better. We'll respond tomorrow night." 

Not much puck luck

All of the bounces went Carolina's way on the opening goal of the game with 9:35 left in the first period. A high, seemingly harmless wrist shot from the right faceoff circle by Micheal Ferland hit Hutton, bounced off the top of the net, back out in front and then over the goal line off the stick of Marco Scandella, who crashed the crease in an effort to defend the goal. 

The Sabres and Hurricanes traded chances and goals early in the second period with the score tied 1-1. Justin Williams ripped one top shelf to put Carolina up 2-1 at the 4:30 mark. Jason Pominville then answered 30 seconds later to tie the game. And then just 42 seconds later, Sebastian Aho banked one off Rasmus Dahlin's skate and past Hutton to give the Hurricanes the lead once again.

Video: BUF@CAR: Pominville buries nice feed from Rodrigues 

Pominville tied Mogilny for 11th in franchise history with what was his 211th goal as a member of the Sabres.

The Hurricanes extended their lead with 7:33 left in the second on Aho's second of the night. After a scrambly sequence in front of the net, he threw one in front that deflected off Jake McCabe and past Hutton to put Carolina ahead 4-2. 

"It was difficult, but I'm a big believer of 'you create your own breaks,'" Housley said. "And I give them credit because they were throwing everything to the net and that's what happens, just having that shot mentality."  

A quick strike

Buffalo responded to make it 1-1 with crisp execution on a power play that lasted only 7.9 seconds in the dying moments of the first period.

Video: BUF@CAR: Skinner scores PPG in return to Carolina

Eichel, who returned to the lineup after missing the past three games with an upper-body injury, made his presence felt immediately on the man advantage. On Buffalo's first chance of the night, every player on the top unit - Eichel, Skinner, Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart - touched the puck in a quick sequence that led to the goal. 

Skinner won the draw on the left dot to Eichel on the left wing, who swung it back to Ristolainen at the point. As Eichel curled back up toward the blue line, Ristolainen dished it back to him and then Eichel, leaning into what could have been a shot or a cross-ice pass, sent a hard pass south to Reinhart behind the goal line. 

Reinhart then wired one to Dahlin across the crease, where he was waiting by the right post. Dahlin fired a shot on goal and the puck went off the back of a lunging McElhinney. Skinner, standing at the top of the crease, reached out and batted the puck into the empty net with 20.7 seconds remaining in the period.

The Sabres power play finished 1-for-4. 

"I had a slow start. I don't know how many days I've been off of playing games, but it took a little bit for me to get into it," Eichel said. "Not as crisp as I probably want. I thought as the game went on, it got a little better. Just the battle level, that sort of thing, the compete, making plays, holding onto pucks.

"I don't think it was where it was before I got hurt, but with that being said, I think it came along a little bit towards the second half of the game. Just try to build off that for tomorrow." 

Coming up

The Sabres are back in action Saturday night when they'll host the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning at KeyBank Center. Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.

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