WASHINGTON — The Boston Bruins seem to be emerging as the favorite to land former Sabres captain Brian Gionta now that the Rochester native is back from his role as Team USA's captain at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Gionta, 39, has made it clear he wants to sign with a contender in the Eastern Conference prior to Monday's NHL trade deadline so he will be eliglble for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Multiple outlets reported Saturday the Bruins have the lead for his services. His old team, the New Jersey Devils, are believed to be in the mix and another possibility could be the Toronto Maple Leafs because of the ties to current general manager and former New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello.
Gionta, who played collegiately at Boston College, struggled in the Olympics. He did not have a point and posted a minus-4 rating in the five games. He has played just one professional game this season, a contest with the Rochester Amerks prior to heading to Korea. Gionta worked out with the Amerks much of this season in preparation for his trip overseas.
Speaking to reporters prior to Saturday's game in Toronto, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney would not directly address talks with Gionta. But he admitted the team had interest in adding free agents who were playing in the Olympics.
"We have had discussions with people prior to [the Games],” Sweeney said. “You know, to see what they may or may not do, based on what our needs are. So we have a couple. ... it is a short window to try to turn this around. We are having those discussions, and I will continue to do so. If there is an area we can continue to supplement our group, we will do that.”
Gionta had 15 goals and 20 assists for the Sabres last season. Oddly enough, Buffalo hosts the Bruins Sunday at 5 in KeyBank Center in the teams' final game prior to Monday's 3 p.m. trade deadline. Gionta has not played in a postseason since 2014 when he was with Montreal.
Saturday was a big anniversary for offense in Sabres history.
* It marked 36 years since Wayne Gretzky broke the NHL's single-season goal record in a memorable Buffalo-Edmonton game in Memorial Auditorium on Feb. 24, 1982. Gretzky scored his 77th goal of the season with 6:36 left and added Nos. 78 and 79 (the latter into in an empty net) to complete a hat trick and give the Oilers a 6-3 win. Gretzky's hat trick spoiled one by Buffalo's Gilbert Perreault.
* Twenty-five years ago (Feb. 24, 1993), Alexander Mogilny scored four goals for the second time in six games as the Sabres outgunned the Detroit Red Wings in the Aud, 10-7. It was one of two games that season to feature a combined 17 goals as the Sabres beat the New York Rangers, 11-6, on Dec. 31, 1992. The franchise record is 18, set in a 14-4 win over Toronto in 1981.
Here's one you wouldn't expect: Buffalo and Washington entered Saturday's game with exactly the same record in February at 4-5-2. The Caps were just 2-3-2 in their last seven games and had simply not kept the puck out of their net, allowing 27 goals in those seven games. They were 1-3 in their last four games, with the only win coming Monday in Buffalo.
Saturday's game was the 983rd in the career of Washington star Alexander Ovechkin, tying him with former Buffalo first-round pick and defenseman Calle Johansson for tops on the franchise's all-time list. Ovechkin entered the game six goals away from becoming the 20th player in league history to get to 600. He passed 1,100 points last week, becoming the 60th player to reach that mark, and started the game at 1,103.