DETROIT - It took him until the final period of the season, but Jeff Skinner etched his place in Sabres history during the team's 7-1 victory against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday.
Skinner scored twice to reach the 40-goal mark for the first time in his career, becoming the 11th player to reach the milestone in a Sabres uniform. The winger had downplayed the possibility in recent days, but his teammates were aware of the stakes.
His linemates, Evan Rodrigues and Kyle Okposo, said as much prior to the game.
"Roddy and Okie were telling me before the game they weren't going to shoot anything," Skinner said. "They were looking for me out there, I saw them. Even some of the plays that didn't go our way, they were maybe sort of forcing it to me."
Rodrigues and Okposo were on the ice for Skinner's first marker, which came during a three-goal second period for the Sabres. After hitting a post earlier in the period, Skinner deked through three defenders toward the slot and buried a wrist shot over the shoulder of goalie Jimmy Howard.
Video: BUF@DET: Skinner goes top shelf after beautiful moves
Recognizing he was one goal away, Phil Housley reunited Skinner with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart for a shift in the third period. It worked, with a long possession in the offensive zone paying off when Rasmus Dahlin set up a Skinner shot from the right circle.
The shot went in off the torso of goalie Kaden Fulcher, making his NHL debut in relief after Howard allowed five goals on 26 shots.
Video: BUF@DET: Skinner nets wrister to hit 40-goal mark
"Everyone wanted to pass him the puck so he could score that goal," Dahlin said. "Luckily, it was me. Congrats to him. It's a great season. He'll probably have a pretty heavy contract next year."
Reinhart quickly collected the puck and brought it to Skinner as a keepsake. Eichel continued to congratulate his winger on the bench, a fitting moment for a duo that put together All-Star campaigns as linemates for much of the season.
"It's nice," Skinner said. "It's something they're a huge part of. I played most of the year with those two guys, and their talent and vision is probably a big part of a lot of those goals."
The game will be remembered for Skinner's achievement, but it was a complete team effort that saw the Sabres dominate from start to finish. They continued to build on the positives that began to show up during a loss to Nashville on Tuesday and rolled into a win over Ottawa in their home finale on Thursday.
Reinhart, Dahlin, Conor Sheary, Zemgus Girgensons and Brandon Montour all scored goals while Jack Eichel tallied two assists for his 27th multi-point game of the season. Linus Ullmark made 23 saves.
It was a melancholy conclusion to a season that began with playoff aspirations, but the Sabres made the most of their chance to end it on a high note. They outshot the Red Wings, 37-24, and every skater finished with at least a plus-1 rating.
"All we could do in that position was finish strong," Reinhart said. "Obviously, it wasn't a position we wanted to be in, but to be able to turn around and finish the way we wanted to feels better than otherwise. It's all we could've done."
We mentioned that Skinner became the 11th Sabre to score 40 goals in a season. The others are Alexander Mogilny, Danny Gare, Mike Foligno, Dave Andreychuk, Pat LaFontaine, Gilbert Perreault, Rene Robert, Miroslav Satan, Pierre Turgeon and Thomas Vanek.
Eichel, meanwhile, concluded his season with a career-high 82 points (28+54). It's the highest total by a Sabre since Daniel Briere (95) and Vanek (84) in 2006-07.
Dahlin made history the second he stepped onto the ice, becoming the first 18-year-old defenseman to play all 82 games in a season. Only four forwards have accomplished the feat: Vincent Lecavalier (1998-99), Skinner (2010-11), Chris Gratton (1993-93) and Nathan MacKinnon (2013-14).
The rookie was also sure to add to his point total, which stands second to Housley among 18-year-old defensemen in NHL history. Dahlin utilized an Evan Rodrigues screen on the power play, delivering a wrist shot from the right circle to put the Sabres ahead 2-0 in the first period.
Video: BUF@DET: Dahlin buries PPG through traffic in front
Dahlin later added an assist on Skinner's goal for his 44th point of the season.
"It's been so much fun," Dahlin said. "These guys in this locker room, these are amazing guys. They took care of me the whole year. I came in as a rookie and it felt like home the day after I came. It's been awesome, everything's been great. I can't say anything bad about this place."
Reinhart's goal was his 50th even-strength point of the season, marking the first time the Sabres have had two players with at least 50 even-strength points since Derek Roy (53) and Pominville (50) in 2007-08. Eichel's 57 even-strength points are the most by a Sabre since 2006-07.
Reinhart also became the third Sabres player to tally 20 even-strength goals this season, joining Skinner (32) and Eichel (20). It's the first time three Sabres have reached the mark in a single season since Pominville (30), Vanek (28) and Briere (23) in 2006-07.
One more: Skinner's 32 even-strength goals are the most by a Sabre in a single season since Mogilny (49) in 1992-93 and tied for eight-most in franchise history.
The Sabres will hold their season-ending availability on Monday beginning at 9 a.m. Player interviews will be followed by press conferences with Housley and general manager Jason Botterill. Stay tuned to Sabres.com for coverage.