Gionta wins the night

Brian Gionta scored his 15th goal of the season in his 1,000th career NHL game and the Buffalo Sabres skated past the Florida Panthers 4-2 Monday night at KeyBank Center.

After a pregame ceremony to celebrate his accomplishment, Gionta’s score made it 3-0 on Buffalo’s second power-play goal of the night. Gionta converted after a Panther defensive zone turnover. The captain found the loose puck, skated from left to right, patiently carrying the puck the entire way. He fired a short wrister that deflected first off the post, then off Panther defenseman Jason Demers and behind James Reimer to make it 3-0. 

Once it registered a two-goal lead, Buffalo never let it go. That was thanks in large part to Robin Lehner, who finished the game with 30 saves, including 15 in the 3rd period. Lehner spoiled both of Reilly Smith’s attempts to cut the lead to one with under 15 minutes remaining in the game.

Smith broke loose off a breakout pass for a one-on-one chance on Lehner. The Swedish netminder made the kick save but Dmitry Kulikov hooked Smith from behind leading to a penalty shot. Smith zig-zagged down the middle of the ice and went to the backhand, but Lehner slid with him to make the nice blocker save. That was Lehner’s first save in a shootout / penalty shot format this season.

The Sabres opened the scoring on the power play just 3:21 into the game. Jack Eichel led the charge into the offensive zone with his patented strong stick work down the right wing. He fired a bad angled shot on Reimer who let up the rebound right in front of his net. Ryan O’Reilly was perfectly positioned for the rebound finish to notch his 19th score of the year. 

Zach Bogosian’s second effort doubled the Buffalo advantage to 2-0. Bogosian took the initial shot that thudded off the iron but right back in front of the goal. Zemgus Girgensons had a defender tied up allowing Bogosian to sneak in and jam home his own rebound through Reimer’s pads for the defenseman’s second tally of the season. 

After Gionta made it 3-0, Florida got onto the scoreboard on its power-play at the midway point of the middle period. With the man advantage nearing single digits, Jonathan Huberdeau flipped a saucer pass to Jonathan Marchessault who was waiting in the slot and fired the puck past Robin Lehner for his team-leading 29th goal of the year. 

Marcus Foligno restored the three-goal lead with 4:52 remaining in the period. He seemingly caught Reimer off-guard with a soft wrist shot that snuck in the short side. Jack Eichel had the primary assist to record his 16th multi-point game and 55th total point in 55 games this season. 

Reto Berra replaced James Reimer after the goal. Reimer was caught with a Kyle Okposo skate to the head earlier in the period after a play in front of the net. He was deemed well enough to get back on the ice but the combination of the hit and poor play led him to the locker room after he surrendered his fourth goal. 

Evan Rodrigues’ poorly placed turnover led directly to Florida’s second goal of the game. Rodrigues got handcuffed not knowing which way to send the puck. Instead, he floated one out right in front of his own goal and Jonathan Huberdeau gladly accepted the puck and slid it past a sliding Lehner to get Florida back to within two. 

Girgensons thought he ended his 21-game scoreless skid with a goal at the end of the 2nd period. Positioned in front of the goalie, the puck caromed in off his skate. After official review, it was determined that a kicking motion sent the puck in, leaving the score at 4-2. 

There was no scoring in the final frame, but not a lack of excitement. Headlined by Smith’s shootout attempt and a scrap between Josh Gorges and Jonathan Huberdeau, Lehner calmly took care of all 15 shots fired at him.

Dmitry Kulikov and Zach Bogosian each logged over 24 minutes on ice, picking up some of the slack while Rasmus Ristolainen continues to serve his league mandated three-game suspension.

Matt Moulson registered the Sabres only other multi-point effort sans Eichel and he now has 31 points on the season, 10 more than he collected in the 2015-16 campaign.

It’s a short turnaround for the Sabres as they are back in action tomorrow night in Columbus. Buffalo won the last meeting between the teams, 5-3 in Buffalo on March 11th.  Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. at Nationwide Arena.

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