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Skinner, Reinhart lead way in win over Panthers

Thompson also scores as Sabres end 3-game skid

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

As they walked out of the dressing room for the start of the third period at KeyBank Center on Thursday night, the Buffalo Sabres were aware of the familiarity regarding their position.

The Sabres were nursing a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes to go, which was the same score when the third periods began in each of their two previous meetings with the Florida Panthers. They came out on the wrong end in both prior instances, a 3-2 overtime loss on Nov. 30 and a 5-2 regulation loss on Dec. 18. 

"We knew we were in the same position against this team in two previous games," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We recognized that we needed to bear down, make the right plays."

This time, the Sabres hung on. Sam Reinhart and Jeff Skinner scored third-period goals to round out multi-point efforts and Linus Ullmark made 35 saves as the Sabres won 4-3, ending a three-game winless streak

Video: Skinner, Reinhart lead Sabres past Panthers, 4-3

Reinhart and Skinner said Wednesday that it would take a full team effort to make up for the loss of captain Jack Eichel, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. While both wingers turned in top-line performances - Reinhart with a goal and an assist, Skinner with a pair of goals - the win was as much a testament to others handling increases in responsibility. 

Vladimir Sobotka (20:27) and Johan Larsson (19:21) both set season-highs in ice time. Evan Rodrigues filled in between Skinner and Reinhart, winning eight of 10 faceoffs in 17:21. 

Tage Thompson scored his first goal since Nov. 29, giving Buffalo a 2-0 lead at 7:15 in the first period after Skinner had opened the scoring a few minutes prior. He finished the night with a team-high five shots and seven attempts.

"This is contribution by committee," Housley said. "I thought everybody played a very strong game tonight within the minutes that they got."

The win was not without its moments of adversity. The Sabres extended their lead to two on two occasions in the third period and the Panthers pulled back within a goal both times. Florida had goalie Roberto Luongo pulled for an extra attacker when Aleksander Barkov scored to make it 4-3 with 1:29 remaining.

"I don't think we're a fragile group though," Skinner said. "Obviously we haven't gotten the results the past little while that we'd like, but it's a tough league. You're going to go through those stretches. You have to stick to your game, take out the positives in them and build off them. 

"Reino gets a big goal there, gives us a lift, and then you roll out the next shift and you look for a lift from someone else. I thought we did a good job of responding like that as a team."

Video: FLA@BUF: Reinhart deflects Pilut's shot past Luongo

The Sabres entered the night winless in their last seven games against the Panthers, a fact the players didn't shy away from. They got to Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo early, netting goals from Skinner and Thompson during a first period in which they generated 12 shots. 

"I think that was kind of our focus going in," Thompson said of his team's recent hiccups against Florida. "We knew the result that we got last time we played them, and it wasn't what we wanted. I think we went into tonight's game with a chip on our shoulder and played that way for a full 60."


All-Star worthy?

Skinner took sole possession of second place in the NHL goal scoring race with his 27th and 28th goals of the season as he continued to make his case to join Eichel in San Jose at All-Star Weekend later this month. The forward is Buffalo's candidate on the NHL's "Last Man In" ballot, which gives fans the opportunity to vote for the last player on each division roster.

Click here to vote. Fans can vote up to 10 timers per day through Jan. 10. 

Goal No. 27 was the product of an outstanding individual effort at 4:42 in the first period, beginning with a battle won against Barkov along the right-wing boards. Skinner chased the puck as it bounced toward the middle, pulled it to his backhand to evade a defender and picked the corner of the net.

Video: FLA@BUF: Skinner wires shot past Luongo while falling

No. 28 came on a rush down the left-wing side after Skinner flipped the puck up to himself in the Buffalo zone. Again, he picked the top left corner as his target.

Video: FLA@BUF: Skinner snaps home wrister for second goal

Reinhart, meanwhile, set a new career-high with his 31st assist of the season on Skinner's first goal. He now has 17 points in 16 career games against the Panthers. 


A long time coming

Thompson had gone 14 games without a goal entering Thursday, but that's not to say the young forward had been without his opportunities. He was coming off a five-shot outing against the Islanders on Monday and felt he was due for one to find the back of the net. 

"I think it was just a matter of time," Thompson said. "I try not to think about that too much. When you're going through a little bit of a dry spell, you try to keep doing the things that are getting you chances. I think when you're not getting those chances, that's when you should be worried."

He beat Luongo with a wrist shot on the rush from the right circle. 

Video: FLA@BUF: Thompson goes five-hole on Luongo

"He's been really getting some looks," Housley said. "He's been attacking the game off the wing, shooting the puck and finally got rewarded."


Up next

The Sabres conclude their season series with the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Saturday. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.

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