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Sharpen Up: March 28, 2017

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak / Sabres.com

Brian Gionta certainly made his 1,000th game a memorable one. He scored on the power-play 1:25 into the second period and that stood to be the game winner in a 4-2 victory over Florida last night.

He became the third Sabre to score in his 1,000th game. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Gilbert Perreault (on Jan. 29, 1984 against Pittsburgh) and Phil Russell (March 12, 1986 at Chicago) are the others. 

The Sabres have now won four of their past five games and are in Columbus tonight to close out their 17th of a league-high 19 sets of back-to-back games (yes, with only six games remaining on the regular-season schedule there are still two more sets of back-to-backs left).

The Tops Game Night show begins at 6:30 p.m. with puck drop scheduled for just after 7. Dan and Rayzor have the call.

Here's what you need to know.

 

#G1000NTA

Gio's postgame interview with Brian Duff and Brad May is a must watch:

Video: Gionta on the postgame show

So how did Gionta get to 1,000? Through hard work, professionalism and a never-quit attitude. Jourdon LaBarber wrote this feature on Gionta's journey that you should definitely check out.

If you missed it, here is the video that ran on the video board at KeyBank Center prior to the game:

Video: #G1000NTA Tribute Video

And here is the ceremony in full for you:

Video: #G1000NTA Pregame Ceremony

We reached out to Gionta's friends, family, teammates and other people who helped him reach 1,000 games, and they shared their messages of congratulations in arena as well:

Video: Congrats to Gio: Family

Video: Congrats to Gio: Teammates

 Video: Congrats to Gio: Hockey Family

 Video: Congrats to Gio: Russ Brandon

(And fist bumps and stick taps all around to our crew behind the scenes who helped put all of the elements of the ceremony together.)

 

Now to the highlights

Video: Sabres double up Panthers, 4-2, in Buffalo

From the game recap:

If the ceremony was a tribute from the organization as a whole, the players honored their captain with the way they played. Zach Bogosian said there was a buzz in the dressing room already on Monday morning, and the Sabres channeled that energy into a similar performance as the one that led to a 5-2 win over Toronto on Saturday.

Video: GORGES: Postgame Interview

"When we got through the last game against Toronto, we recognized that when we play a certain way and we play that way consistently throughout the game, we have success," alternate captain Josh Gorges said. "We give ourselves a chance. 

"We wanted to make sure we followed that up again tonight, one because we've got to start learning how to do these things night in and night out and two obviously we wanted to have a good showing for Gio."

Video: BYLSMA: Postgame Interview vs. Panthers

"I think we saw our guys play with that respect for him in the game tonight," coach Dan Bylsma said.

Video: BOGOSIAN: Postgame Interview

Florida would go on to score twice in the second period, first on the power play from Jonathan Marchessault and then off the stick of Jonathan Huberdeau, meaning Gionta's goal ended up standing as the game-winner, an appropriate conclusion for a notoriously team-first player.

Of course, with that team-first attitude also comes an unwillingness to be in the spotlight. From that standpoint, for as much as Gionta appreciated the ceremony and the prizes and the T-shirts, it also came with a bit of discomfort.

"It's always hard," he said. "I'm a guy that likes to be behind the scenes, I don't like to be out in front. So tonight, to be the focus early on for the ceremony and what not, it's …"

As part of the celebration, Ryan O'Reilly ordered these aforementioned T-shirts for all of the players that they sported in the locker room afterwards. Save your jokes, people. We've heard them all!

 Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Teammates made up these tees & are wearing them in support of Gio postgame. #G1000nta pic.twitter.com/sFlGQE8p9S

Tonight's action

The Sabres left for Columbus after the game for their contest tonight against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. 

Let's check out the Game Notes.

Watch out for Jack Eichel. The Sabres sophomore center is now at a point-per-game pace after picking up two assists last night. He has 55 points (23+32) in 55 games. 

Eichel's 1.00 point per game ranks him ninth among all players with at least 20 games played this season.

If Eichel finishes the season at a point-per-game pace or better, he will be the eighth player in franchise history to do so in one of his first two full NHL seasons, joining Rick Martin (1971-72), Rene Robert (1972-73), Dave Andreychuk (1983-84), Phil Housley (1983-84), Pierre Turgeon (1988-89), Alexander Mogilny (1990-91) and Thomas Vanek (2006-07).

Eichel has logged 40 points (15+25) in his last 34 games, including 12 multi-point outings during that stretch. The Sabres are 14-2-0 this season (and 22-5-1 in his career) when he has at least two points.

Also of note, he leads the league in shots on goal with 222 since his return from injury on Nov. 29.

He has at least a point in four of his five career games against Columbus, having totaled six points (2+4) in those games, too.

 

On tap today

There's no morning skate for the Sabres so we'll have lineup news and notes later this afternoon.

The Amerks had a heck of a weekend and we'll check up on them today with our weekly update from Rochester. 

Then tune into the pregame show and don't miss any of the action tonight from Columbus. We'll have full postgame coverage for you right here on Sabres.com.

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