BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Jack Eichel’s absence didn’t prevent Buffalo’s top line from carrying the load again.
Jeff Skinner scored twice, including his team-leading 28th goal, and Sam Reinhart had a goal and an assist for the Sabres in a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
“It’s great to see that Skinner scores. At this point in the season, that’s the way it’s going to go to win a one-goal game,” Buffalo coach Phil Housley said. “We’ve lost some one-goal games in the past and it’s going to be tight. It’s going to be a great test for us.”
Buffalo snapped an 0-2-1 skid while overcoming the loss of Eichel, who missed his first game since sustaining an upper-body injury in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday. Without disclosing the nature of the injury, Housley listed Eichel as day to day while also saying the captain will not play in Buffalo’s next game at Boston on Saturday.
Eichel’s absence placed even more pressure on a team that’s spent much of this season relying on its top line, which entered the night having accounted for 49 of Buffalo’s 115 goals.
Skinner and Reinhart delivered in a game the Sabres never trailed. They beat Florida for the first time since March 27, 2017, to snap an 0-6-1 skid against the Panthers.
Buffalo also improved to 5-7-4 since its 10-game winning streak, which equaled a franchise record.
“I don’t think we’re sort of a fragile group,” Skinner said, referring to the Sabres’ slump. “I think we did a good job of responding like that as a team.”
Tage Thompson also scored for Buffalo, and Linus Ullmark stopped 35 shots to win his fourth consecutive start.
Alexander Barkov had a goal and an assist for the Panthers, who lost for just the third time in nine games. Mike Hoffman and Frank Vatrano also scored.
Roberto Luongo gave up two goals on the first four shots he faced and finished with 29 saves.
A slow start cost the Panthers three days after they overcame a 3-0 first-period deficit in a 4-3 shootout win at Detroit.
“The difference was they came out stronger than us in the first period,” Hoffman said. “It’s not easy to point a finger at exactly what it is. Obviously, we’ve got to take a little more responsibility in this room.”
Skinner opened the scoring 4:42 into the game. And he sealed the win by putting Buffalo up 4-2 with 3:46 left, just less than three minutes after Hoffman scored a power-play goal.
Skinner scored by collecting a loose puck in his own zone, driving up the left wing and snapping a shot that sneaked in under Luongo’s right arm.
With Buffalo up 2-1, Reinhart also provided a lift for the Sabres by deflecting in Lawrence Pilut’s shot 1:20 into the third period.
The game featured several shifts in momentum, with each team scoring disputed goals.
Vatrano cut Buffalo’s lead to 2-1 by scoring on a 2-on-1 break in which he was allowed to break free out of his own zone only after Florida’s Keith Yandle knocked over Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin, who was two steps away from playing the puck.
Housley said officials informed him they considered Yandle’s hit to be incidental contact.
The Panthers were unhappy with Reinhart’s goal, arguing he deflected it in with a high stick.
“I didn’t really know. You can’t see a lot on the monitors on the bench,” Florida coach Bob Boughner said. “We were relying on the league to review it, so I guess they obviously must have.”
Buffalo had a goal disallowed 42 seconds later, when officials ruled Sabres forward Kyle Okposo interfered with Luongo before Marco Scandella snapped in a shot from inside the blue line.
NOTES: Reinhart set a career best with his 31st assist of the season on Skinner’s first goal. … Evan Rodrigues took Eichel’s spot in centering Buffalo’s first line. … Florida D Chris Wideman was scratched after practicing with the team Wednesday for the first time since being acquired by the Panthers in a trade with Edmonton on Sunday.
Panthers: Host Columbus on Saturday.
Sabres: At Boston on Saturday.
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