Skinner scores twice and Sabres rally to 5-4 win over Wild
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Sabres coach Don Granato defines opportunistic bounces as being the ones a team takes advantage of on the scoresheet.
Having seen enough bad bounces go against Buffalo in a year the team is all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for an 11th straight season, Granato was buoyed to see Jeff Skinner finally capitalize on a few in rallying the Sabres to a 5-4 win over the Minnesota Wild on Friday night.
“I’ve stood here many times and we could complain about breaks going against us, and we can’t do that. It’s just, you make your breaks,” Granato said.
“Good teams do that, good players do that,” he added. “Obviously we got a break, but it’s not a break until you take advantage of it. Skinner was ready for it and he did a great job.”
Skinner scored twice over a third-period span of 4:20 and after the Sabres were in jeopardy of losing for an NHL-worst 10th time when leading through two periods. Buffalo (18-30-8), coming off a 5-1 win at Toronto on Wednesday, instead responded by winning consecutive games for just the fifth time this season.
Skinner tied it at 3 courtesy of a fortunate bounce after teammate Tage Thompson’s attempt to ring the boards banked off a linesman’s skate and caromed into the middle, and with Kaapo Kahkonen leaving his crease to play the puck behind the net. With the goalie scrambling back into position, Skinner whiffed on a backhander and had his second attempt blocked before scoring on his third chance by wrapping it in around the fallen Kahkonen.
Skinner then scored the go-ahead goal with 3:20 remaining by driving across the middle and having his initial shot blocked by Minnesota’s Dmitry Kulikov. Skinner collected the rebound and drove to the left post, where he lifted a shot over Kahkonen for his 23rd goal of the season.
Kyle Okposo and Casey Mittlestadt each had a goal and assist, and Victor Olofsson sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 1:06 remaining. Craig Anderson made 29 saves for Buffalo.
The Wild dropped to 2-7 in their past nine, with the slump immediately following an 11-1-1 run. Minnesota was also unable to build off the momentum of a 5-4 win at Philadelphia the previous night, when the Wild rallied from four one-goal deficits.
“I guess what goes around, comes around,” Wild coach Dean Evason said. “We get up there and we thought we’re in a pretty good spot. But teams don’t quit. We know that.”
Kirill Kaprizov scored twice, including his team-leading 26th goal, and added an assist. Kevin Fiala and Ryan Hartman also scored while Kahkonen stopped 33 shots in losing his third straight.
“Obviously, a weird bounce but we’ve just got to do a better job of sort of calming it down and going right back at them,” Wild captain Jared Spurgeon said of Skinner’s tying goal.
Instead, it was the Sabres who regained their composure after Fiala and Kaprizov scored 1:39 apart to pull the Wild ahead 3-2 at the 4:59 mark of the third period. In doing so, Buffalo avoided losing an NHL-worst 10th time when leading after 40 minutes.
“I loved our third period, I don’t know what else to say,” Okposo said. “We just stayed on our toes the whole time.”
Rather than learning from past mistakes, Granato called the comeback a sign of a youth-laden Sabres team finally taking ownership.
“It’s funny because everybody says it’s learning, learning. It’s not learning, it’s having it in you that competitive drive in you,” he said. “It’s a desire to just not be denied. It’s a will. I don’t think there’s anything learning about it.”
Evason said forward Mats Zuccarello is likely to return Sunday after being held out against Buffalo due to a an upper body injury sustained against Philadelphia.
Forwards Matt Dumba and Jordan Greenway could also be available to play as early as Sunday, Evason said. Both players joined the team on the trip in order to take part in practice, and with the Wild taking Saturday off. Dumba (lower body injury) has missed 10 games and Greenway (upper body) five.
Sabres D Rasmus Dahlin had two assists to extend his home points streak to eight games, the longest by a Buffalo defenseman since Phil Housley had two eight-game runs during the 1989-90 season. ... Kaprizov has a four-game point streak in which he’s scored three goals and three assists.
Wild: Return home to face the Dallas Stars on Sunday.
Sabres: Host the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday.
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