Brian Gionta paces Buffalo Sabres in 1,000th game

By Mark Ludwiczak, The Sports Xchange   |   March 28, 2017 at 6:27 AM
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Brian Gionta celebrated his 1,000th career NHL game in style.

After being honored in a pregame ceremony, the Sabres captain went out and scored the game-winning goal in Buffalo's 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

"It was an emotional night," Gionta said. "I'm just a humble kid from Western New York, and I just try to take it all in."

Ryan O'Reilly, Zach Bogosian and Marcus Foligno also scored for Buffalo (32-32-12). Robin Lehner made 30 saves.

The game-winner was a crafty veteran effort from the 38-year-old. After receiving the puck, Gionta curled in front of the net before banking a shot off Panthers defenseman Jason Demers into the net for his 289th career goal.

"Fitting," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was a special night for Brian and his family and one he richly deserved. When he scored the goal, half our benched jumped up like it was a playoff goal. Everyone was pleased to see him get the reward and in a fitting way. It was kind of a goal scorer's goal."

Gionta was given a video tribute before the game and was presented with a silver stick by Sabres general manager Tim Murray. After the game, teammates wore shirts honoring their captain that featured a cartoon of Gionta on the front and his number 12 on the back.

"It was a tremendous honor to be a part of his big night," Foligno said. "Tonight was his night."

Jonathan Marchessault and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for the Panthers (33-31-11), who are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Florida is seven points behind Boston for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining.

James Reimer allowed four goals on 22 shots and was replaced by Reto Berra in the second period. Berra made 10 saves.

"We didn't play the way we're supposed to," general manager/interim coach Tom Rowe said. "We weren't prepared mentally or physically and that's what happens when you come into a building like this and they're ready and we weren't."

The Sabres quickly took control of the game, jumping out to a 3-0 lead.

O'Reilly opened the scoring 3:21 into the game. Jack Eichel's shot from a hard angle fell directly to O'Reilly in the slot, who put the puck home for his 19th goal of the season.

Bogosian made it 2-0 Sabres with 5:54 remaining in the first period. After his initial shot ricocheted off the far post, Bogosian raced to gather the rebound and tucked it between Reimer's legs for his second goal of the season.

After Gionta put Buffalo up 3-0, Marchessault got the Panthers on the board midway through the second by extending his hot streak. The forward buried a hard wrist shot from the slot after a feed from Huberdeau for his 29th goal of the season. Marchessault has six goals in the past three games and is coming off a hat trick against Chicago on Saturday.

Foligno made it 4-1 on a goal that should have been stopped by Reimer, and it ended the goaltender's night. Foligno scored with 4:52 left in the second on a bad angle from the left circle.

Huberdeau made it 4-2 with 3:50 left in the second after Jaromir Jagr forced a turnover deep in Sabres territory. Huberdeau then cut inside, beating Lehner with a backhand deke for his eighth goal of the season.

The Panthers had their share of opportunities in the third period to make it close but came up short. Reilly Smith was awarded a penalty shot early in the period but Lehner came up with a glove save.

"We definitely had enough chances tonight to at least close that gap," Smith said. "It was just tough that not a lot of them went in the back of the net."

NOTES:

-- D Rasmus Ristolainen, D Taylor Fedun, LW Nicolas Deslauriers and D Cody Franson were scratched for the Sabres. Ristolainen missed the second of three games due to suspension. Ristolainen received the three-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head on Pittsburgh F Jake Guentzel last week.

-- D Aaron Ekblad, G Roberto Luongo, C Michael Sgarbossa and C Denis Malgin were scratched for the Panthers. Luongo has missed 12 games due to a lower-body injury.

-- This was the third of four meetings between the two teams this season. The fourth and final meeting takes place on Saturday, April 8 in Florida.

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