Score: Sabres 3, Golden Knights 2
Shots: Buffalo: 18 Vegas: 43
Buffalo Sabres Goals: Jeff Skinner (16), Tage Thompson (26), Lawrence PiIut (1)
Vegas Golden Knights Goals: Chandler Stephenson (8), Reilly Smith (17)
Plus 1: Skinny Scores First
After a scoreless first period, Jeff Skinner got a wrist shot past Vegas goalie Adin Hill to put Buffalo on the board. It was Skinner’s 16th goal of the season and fifth in his last five games.
Skinner is more than matching the level of offensive production he enjoyed in 2021-22, when he scored 33 goals. With a little over four months left in the season, he already has almost half that total. If No. 53 keeps it up, he’ll even exceed his best year, 2018-19, when Skinner scored 40. The sky’s the limit for the veteran sniper.
Plus 2: TNT Takes it to the Net
When Skinner makes plays happen, linemate Tage Thompson is never far behind. Six minutes after Skinner’s wrister, Thompson scored a wrist shot of his own with an assist from Casey Fitzgerald to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead.
WesIsaLeo had the Comment of the Game: “The patience of Job on that wrister, glory be.” TNT waited for the right opportunity to get the puck past Hill and score Buffalo’s second goal of the night.
Plus 3: Pilut Gets a Slapper
Slap shots rarely go in for any team, much less the Sabres. So it was fun to see Buffalo defenseman Lawrence Pilut’s slapper beat Hill for the Blue and Gold’s third goal near the end of the second period. It was Pilut’s first of the season and hopefully won’t be his last.
Plus 4: UPL Steals the Game for Buffalo
Sabres backup goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen was once again outstanding in front of the net against Vegas. UPL stopped 41 of 43 shots, a near repeat of his performance against the Colorado Avalanche on Dec. 15th, where he blocked 39 of 41 scoring attempts.
The Golden Knights tested the 23-year goaltender throughout the evening, but really turned on the pressure in the third period, throwing 23 shots at No. 1, more than half their game total. Luukkonen played especially well through 60 minutes, but his best moment was against a penalty shot from Jonathan Marchessault with 6:57 left in the third. After the refs penalized Okposo for tripping the Vegas forward, the zebras rewarded Marchessault with a free shot.
UPL followed Marchessault’s movements and made beating him look easy. It was a huge save that kept the Knights from getting three goals in the last 20 minutes. Instead of Vegas tying it up to force an OT, Buffalo ultimately walked away with two points, thanks to Luukkonen’s netminding heroics.
The Sabres, after killing off two penalties in a scoreless first period, got three unanswered goals in the second. Vegas dominated the final period, outshooting Buffalo 23 to 5. Not only did the Sabres have to kill off a GK power play and penalty shot, but also stop the extra attacker for the final two-and-a-half minutes.
UPL gave up his second goal after Vegas pulled Hill, but the Sabres managed to hang on, blocking shot after shot and try after try, failing to get an empty netter but keeping the Knights from scoring the tying goal.
After watching the Buffalo Bills pull off a similar indigestion-inducing win against the Miami Dolphins Saturday night, it was another nail-biter for Buffalo sports fans. However, it’s possible things are changing around here. Maybe fans should get used to our teams winning close games instead of blowing them.
The Sabres head home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night at KeyBank Center. Puck drop is at 7 pm.