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Pilut, Smith help fuel 5-goal 2nd period in win over Devils

Rookies tally first NHL goals in 5-1 victory

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

C.J. Smith smiled as he leaned against the Buffalo Sabres' bench, waiting for video replay to confirm what he already knew. 

Smith had just barely beaten New Jersey Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid with a shot that trickled out from between the netminder's pads. He wrapped behind the net after shooting and saw the puck creep over the goal line before Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen was able to clear it in a last-ditch effort. 

Replay would indeed confirm it - the 24-year-old Smith had just scored his first NHL goal. 

"I shot it, went behind the net and saw it was in," Smith said. "It was kinda funny, nobody else really knew it was in so I kind of celebrated by myself, but it felt good."

Video: Condensed Game: Devils @ Sabres

There would be plenty more celebrating from there. Smith's was the second of five goals scored by the Sabres during the second period of a 5-1 win over the Devils at KeyBank Center on Tuesday. Lawrence Pilut tallied his first NHL goal as well, while Jeff Skinner, Casey Mittelstadt and Jake McCabe also scored. 

It was the Sabres' first five-goal period since their 7-4 win in Nashville on March 31 of last year, and their first such period at home since a 5-1 win over Carolina on Nov. 28, 2009. Mike Grier, now an assistant coach on the Devils' bench, opened the scoring for Buffalo in that game.

Fourteen different Sabres recorded a point in the period (nobody had two), which tied a franchise record, according to NHL PR. The previous instances occurred on Nov. 2, 2006 versus Tampa Bay and Oct. 21, 2009 at Florida. 

"We had all four lines contributing, a lot of O-zone chances," said Evan Rodrigues, who assisted on McCabe's shorthanded goal. "It could've been even more in the second. That's what happens when you're rolling shifts over in the O-zone and tiring teams out. That's when you start to get rewarded. 

"I thought in past games we've been getting our chances, but we haven't had the sustained pressure like we had today."

The middle period had given the Sabres problems as of late, most recently in their 2-1 loss in Boston on Saturday. They had good reason to come out of the first intermission with confidence on Tuesday despite trailing 1-0 on a Blake Coleman goal scored 1:28 into the contest. 

Outside of Coleman's goal, the Sabres dominated the first period to the tune of an 11-5 advantage in shots and a 24-12 edge in shot attempts. 

"I think we were pretty confident," Pilut said. "We just focused on our game. We were playing pretty well. We just had to keep at it. That's what we did in the second, I think. We built off the first period really well and kept it going."

The period opened in familiar fashion, with Skinner picking the far-side corner on a rush for his 29th goal of the season. That's three goals and 13 shots for the winger in three games without Jack Eichel in the lineup. (Some might call it an All-Star worthy performance?)

Video: NJD@BUF: Skinner picks the corner from the circle

The goals piled on from there, until Pilut capped the scoring with 2:15 remaining in the period. The Sabres managed the game well in the third, generating more of their own scoring chances while keeping any threat of a comeback at arm's length. 

"I'm really happy for Jeff," said Carter Hutton, who made 20 saves. "He's been playing great all year and obviously a chance with Jack out to step up and really show how important he is on this team. 

"This is a big night for everyone to step up here. Jack's our leader and we miss him, but at the same time there's a lot of people who are capable in this room and we showed that tonight."

 

Pilut, Smith net their firsts

Video: Lawrence Pilut talks 1st career goal

Smith could have scored his first goal on his first shift of the night, had his shot on an open net not deflected off the near-side post. The wait from that point had to seem like an instant compared to the patience he's shown since making his NHL debut back in spring 2017. 

A mid-season injury kept Smith from seeing time at the NHL level last season, when he was an All-Star as a rookie in Rochester. He was one of the last players to be reassigned from training camp this season, but he kept his head down and turned in an even better start to his sophomore campaign in the AHL. 

It all paid off on Tuesday, his fourth game of the season and the sixth of his young NHL career. 

Video: NJD@BUF: Smith beats Kinkaid for first NHL goal

"I got a little more confident tonight," he said. "... I think we were playing really well as a line. Finally, a matter of time it went in. It felt really good."

Pilut's wait wasn't quite as long, but the rookie defenseman had seen his knack for getting shots through from the blue line result in a number of close calls during his first 11 games. This time, he utilized a screen from Sam Reinhart and lofted a shot in past Kinkaid.  

Video: NJD@BUF: Pilut nets long shot for first NHL goal

"My first thought is always get the puck through and just try to get it on the edge of the goal all the time," he said. "Just try to find those small spots."

 

Digging deep

McCabe was drifting toward the bench at the end of a long shift on the penalty kill when he noticed an opportunity to spring free for his 2-on-1 rush with Rodrigues. It didn't matter that the defenseman had just blocked a shot at point-blank range; he put his head down and rushed to create the scoring chance.

It paid off. Rodrigues looked off the defender before passing across to McCabe, who had a wide-open net to shoot on.

Video: NJD@BUF: McCabe buries Rodrigues' dish for SHG

"He was at the end of the shift, too, and was gassed," Housley said. "He just dug down and grinded it out. I know him coming up the ice, he was pushing it pretty hard there. Rodger made a pretty good play on that and it's good to see him finish it off."

 

Up next

Skinner will make his return to Carolina when the Sabres visit the Hurricanes on Friday night. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 7 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7:30. 

The team returns home to host the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. 
 

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