Without Jack Eichel tonight, the Buffalo Sabres needed someone to step up to snap their losing streak. Thankfully, one of their top players throughout the season was up to the challenge.
The Sabres got off to a quick start tonight and were rewarded with the first goal of the game. Jeff Skinner picked up a loose puck on the wall skated to the middle of the ice, making a nice move around a Panthers defender. Then he wristed it under the bar to make it 1-0 early.
Jeff Skinner makes a fool of the Panthers— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) January 4, 2019
1-0 Buffalo pic.twitter.com/ipapfxGIHe
Just over three minutes later, Tage Thompson increased the lead to two. He went five-hole on Roberto Luongo to make it 2-0 less than 10 minutes in.
The Sabres kept up the pressure for the majority of the period and limited the chances of the Panthers. After 20 minutes the Sabres held their two goal lead and led 12-10 in shots on goal.
In the second period, the Panthers carried the better play. They got themselves back in the game on a strange play.
Keith Yandle knocked down Rasmus Dahlin in the offensive zone, which allowed the Panthers to go the other way on a 2 on 1. Frank Vatrano beat Linus Ullmark high glove to make it a one goal game.
Ullmark stood his ground for the remainder of the period, keeping the Panthers from finding the equalizer.
Conor Sheary had the Sabres best chance of the period on a breakaway, but was stopped by the glove of Luongo.
The Panthers outshot the Sabres 13-11 in the period, but the Sabres held their 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
The Sabres took control of the game back just 1:20 into the third period, Lawrence Pilut fired a shot on goal that was tipped past Luongo by Sam Reinhart to give the Sabres back their two-goal lead.
Pilut rockets one through. Reinhart may have tipped.— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) January 4, 2019
3-1 Buffalo. pic.twitter.com/Gp1U2w0HL8
Just a few minutes later they looked like they put the game away with another goal, but it was waved off. Kyle Okposo was knocked into the Panthers goaltender and it was called goaltender interference. Okposo didn’t do a lot to get out of the way after he fell into Luongo.
The Panthers made the game interesting again with just over seven minutes remaining. A loose puck came out of a scramble in front of Ullmark and onto the stick of Hoffman for a power play goal to make it 3-2.
Florida was threatening to tie the game, but Skinner made another big pay. The non All-Star winger came flying down the wing and beat Luongo under the arm for his second of the game with just over three minutes remaining.
Of course, the Sabres can’t make it easy. Aleksander Barkov slipped a puck by Ullmark with 1:27 remaining to get the Panthers back within one.
Fortunately the Sabres were able to hold on for the victory and snap their three-game losing streak. As well as their seven-game losing streak against the Panthers.
Final: Sabres 4, Panthers 3
Shots on Goal: Sabres 33 | Panthers 38
Sabres Goal Scorers: Skinner (27, 28), Thompson (5), and Reinhart (9)
Panthers Goal Scorers: Vatrano (11), Hoffman (19) (PPG), and Barkov (16)
Three Stars of the Game
1. Jeff Skinner (2 G, GWG)
2. Sam Reinhart (1 G, 1 A)
3. Tage Thompson (1 G)