BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Jeff Skinner and Tage Thompson scored 23 seconds apart in the third period and the Buffalo Sabres rallied to beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-2 on Tuesday night.
Buffalo’s alternate captains, Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons, each added a goal and an assist, and Craig Anderson made 32 saves. After finishing in last place for the fourth time in eight seasons, the Sabres are 3-0 for the first time since 2008 and the fifth time in franchise history.
“You go through ups and downs and you got to keep this momentum when you have it,” said Okposo, who scored his 200th NHL goal and has recorded a point in eight straight games against the Canucks. “So we’re just hoping to continue to keep that confidence for the season. We know it’s going to dip at some points.
“We have a young group. But if we continue to practice well and have games like that, it’s going to be fun.”
Bo Horvat and Justin Dowling scored for the Canucks in their second straight loss. Thatcher Demko stopped 38 shots in the fourth of a six-game trip, the longest to start a season in team history.
The Canucks played without defensemen Kyle Burroughs and Quinn Hughes. Hughes, the seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft, was scratched with an undisclosed injury after participating in an optional morning skate.
“He was close to playing tonight,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “I don’t expect him to be out long.”
Green credited the Sabres’ speed with getting the Canucks out of their comfort zone.
“It was a real fast game, back and forth,” Green said. “Both teams were kind of playing a run-and-gun game. I wouldn’t classify our team as a run-and-gun type of team. … If we are going to play that game tonight, we are going to be in trouble.”
Skinner scored on a rebound 3:33 into the third, lifting a backhand shot from his knees over his shoulder — and Demko’s glove — to give Buffalo its first lead of the game.
“Great goal,” Okposo said. “Not many guys in the world that can spin it around and tuck it top shelf.”
While Skinner’s goal was being announced during the next shift, Thompson knocked in a rebound from the the left side of the crease to make it 4-2. Rasmus Asplund added a goal into the empty net with 2:55 remaining.
“I liked our enthusiasm, our fight in the third,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “In the locker room, I think we felt we could elevate and we need to elevate.”
Buffalo scored the final four goals of the game after asserting itself in the second period, when the Canucks started slowing down.
“Essentially what led to the goals,” Dowling said, was “us not executing, us not moving our feet. That’s not our game. Our game is what was going on in the first 10 minutes of the first period. Just a mentality, it’s a mindset. We’ve got to learn how to keep that going for 60 minutes.”
The Sabres tied it up on Girgensons’ goal with 2:23 left in the second period. Girgensons deflected Okposo’s shot from the point into the net eight seconds after the Canucks killed a four-minute penalty on Tanner Pearson for high-sticking.
Dowling redirected a long shot by Luke Schenn past Anderson to put Vancouver ahead 2-1 late in the first. Dowling’s first goal with the Canucks came a few minutes after he hit the post on a breakaway.
Horvat gave the Canucks an early lead when he scored his first goal of the season about six minutes into the opening period, with Pearson’s backhand pass from behind the net setting up the Canucks’ captain in the high slot.
Okposo responded for Buffalo about two minutes later with a wrist shot from the right circle for his second goal of the season.
Canucks: Brock Boeser returned to the lineup and started at right wing after missing the first three games with an undisclosed injury. Defensemen Brad Hunt and Schenn also were active for the first time.
Canucks: Placed D Travis Hamonic on temporary leave of absence to deal with an undisclosed personal issue, general manager Jim Benning announced Monday. The 31-year-old did not report to training camp after signing a two-year, $6 million contract extension in July. After clearing waivers and being assigned to the minors last week, Hamonic’s salary will not count toward the cap while he is on leave. “The mutually agreed-upon leave of absence will give Travis time as he works through his personal matters,” Benning said. As a member of the Calgary Flames in 2020, Hamonic was the first player to opt out of playing in the postseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic. … Assigned F Nic Petan to the minors to make room for Boeser on the roster.
Canucks: At the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.
Sabres: Host former goaltender Linus Ullmark and the Boston Bruins on Friday.
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Jonah Bronstein, The Associated Press