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Pominville scores goal on emotional Fan Appreciation Night

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Jason Pominville stood before the cameras, his eyes glistening as he fought back emotions and delivered a message to the people of Buffalo.

"Thank you for everything," he said. "I left probably in tears, came back with a smile. Who knows what's going to happen now?"

Pominville, an unrestricted free agent this summer, contemplated his past and future while driving to work on Thursday morning. He politely excused himself from his pregame interview, overwhelmed with emotion while considering the prospect of playing his last home game as a Sabre. 

He then laced up his skates, threw on his No. 29 sweater and gave fans one more moment they may never forget when he scored the final goal in a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Fan Appreciation Night at KeyBank Center.

The goal was followed by a commercial break, giving fans a chance to show their appreciation with a long standing ovation. Players tapped their sticks and ushered Pominville toward center ice, where he pumped his fist and saluted the crowd.

"I kind of blacked out," Pominville admitted. "It's not my personality. … I don't like those types of things. But the boys sent me to the middle, and I think it was the right thing to do."

Video: Fans salute Pominville

Jack Eichel tallied a goal and two assists to reach the 80-point mark for the first time in his career. Victor Olofsson, Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart also scored goals for the Sabres, while Carter Hutton made 21 saves. 

But the night belonged to Pominville, and to the people who watched him grow from a talented rookie who produced one of the most famous moments in franchise history 13 years ago to a 36-year-old veteran, paving the way for another generation.

"Just in the two years, I've been able to build a really good relationship with him," Eichel said. "Past how special as a player he is, special as a teammate, he's just a really good friend, somebody you can talk to a lot about anything. He just brings such a good attitude to the rink every day. 

"He's been a steady influence for everyone, through all the ups and downs. He's somebody who just goes about his business every day. We can learn a lot from him and the type of professional he is. So, he's meant a lot to me, to this organization, this city, this team."

Video: Eichel records three points, leads Sabres to 5-2 win

Pominville has not ruled out any options regarding his future. If he never plays another game, he'll have already produced one of the most prolific careers in Sabres history. He ranks eighth among franchise leaders in games played (731), assists (303) and points (519). 

His goal on Thursday was his 217th as a Sabre, moving him ahead of Don Luce for sole possession of 10th place on the franchise's all-time list. On its surface, the goal seemed like a product of good fortune - Ottawa goalie Joey Daccord, playing his first NHL game, rimmed the puck along the boards to Pominville, whose shot deflected off a defender's stick and over Daccord as he attempted to recover in front of his net. 

Then again, it almost seemed inevitable from a player who scored in his first game back with the Sabres in October 2017, again in his 1,000th game last November and then in the celebration that followed on home ice two nights later. Those last two moments also came against Ottawa, by the way, the same opponent he scored against shorthanded in the 2006 playoffs. 

Video: POSTGAME: Pominville

"I'm so happy for him, not because he scored, but just the way that line played tonight, they were tenacious, got a couple good looks," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "I know the goal he scored wasn't one of those highlight reels. But just a great guy, great human. It was great see contribute tonight."

Pominville's teammates made sure the moment came in a winning effort. The Sabres turned in their best performance of late, outshooting the Senators 40-23 to snap an eight-game winless streak. Buffalo trailed 2-1 entering the second period, then produced four unanswered goals.

"It's really important for our group," Housley said. "This game was really important for us. To finish off the right way, not only for the group, but more importantly, for our fans. It's been tough. We wanted to improve our home record. I think that was a big focus coming into the season. We've done a pretty job, not as of late, but it was great to win this game for our fans."

The Sabres have one game remaining, on the road against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. After that, it will be time for Pominville to decide what's next.

For now, he has one more moment to soak in with his family.

"I've really enjoyed every moment," he said. "I don't know what the future holds. But enjoy the next couple of days and hopefully get another win and take a step back and make some decisions, I guess."

 

Fan Appreciation 

Fans were greeted at the door with a commemorative Jack Eichel bobblehead for Fan Appreciation Night, with more surprise giveaways following throughout the game. 

Anna Marie Szczepanski, the Sabres' Fan of the Year, was honored during a ceremonial puck drop. Szczepanski, 95, has been attending games since the organization's inaugural season in 1970-71. Watch her interview with Dan Dunleavy below.

Video: Fan of the Year: Anna Marie Szczepanski

The Sabres also announced their 2018-19 player awards throughout the evening, as voted by the members of the team. Here were this season's recipients:

Most Valuable Player, presented by KeyBank - Jack Eichel
In his first season as captain of the Sabres, Eichel has set career highs in goals (28), assists (52) and points (80). He's the first Sabres player to record at least 80 points in a season since Derek Roy (81) and Pominville did so in 2007-08. 

Unsung Hero, presented by Labatt - Carter Hutton
Hutton has been a reliable presence in net during his first season with the Sabres, posting a .908 save percentage in 50 appearances. He's set a career high with 48 starts while serving as a member of the team's leadership group. 

Rookie of the Year, presented by Fallsview Casino Resort - Rasmus Dahlin
Dahlin, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's NHL Draft, ranks second in NHL history in points by an 18-year-old defenseman (42). Housley holds the record with 57 points in 1982-83, while Bobby Orr ranks third with 38 points in 1966-67. 

Sabres Foundation Man of the Year, presented by Roswell Park - Zach Bogosian
Bogosian continued to serve his community through the work of his Bogo Bunch Foundation, which exists to "create a family atmosphere in the lives in those directly and indirectly affected by cancer." The organization hosted its second Casino for a Cause event this season, raising $75,000 for Roswell Park.

 

Up next

The Sabres conclude the season on the road in Detroit on Saturday. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Game Night Pregame Show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.

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