NASHVILLE -- Responding to the sight of a fallen teammate in a big way, the Buffalo Sabres exploded with three power-play goals on a major penalty late in the second period and went on to surprise the Nashville Predators, 7-4, Saturday night in Bridgestone Arena.
Rookie defenseman Victor Antipin left the ice on a stretcher with 5:51 left in the middle period after being plummeted into the end boards on a hit from behind from veteran Nashville forward Scott Hartnell. Antipin hit the glass and fell face-first on to the ice as goaltender Chad Johnson waved for assistance. Medical teams immediately called for a stretcher for the motionless Antipin.
Blood was seen on the ice from Antipin's fall. He was eventually moved on to his back, with his head and neck stabilized, and was wheeled off the ice as the crowd appaluded.
The Sabres were trailing, 4-3, at the time of the incident. Hartnell was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct -- and will undoubtedly hear from NHL Player Safety regarding the incident.
— Bradley Gelber (@BradleyGelber) April 1, 2018
The Sabres then erupted for three power-play goals to stun the leader in the NHL's overall standing and the defending Western Conference champions.
Sam Reinhart scored the first two, at 15:04 and 17:18, and Kyle Okposo tallied on a wrist shot at 19:00 to put Buffalo into a 6-4 lead through 40 minutes. Reinhart added another goal in the third period for his second career hat trick.
Big apples: Jack Eichel assisted on five goals in the game -- including all three on the decisive power play -- to the the franchise record last set by Pat LaFontaine in 1993 at Winnipeg. It was Eichel's first career five-point game and the first by a Sabres since Thomas Vanek had five points at Boston on Jan. 31, 2013.
Also on the scoresheet: Rasmus Ristolainen had three assists, Okposo had two goals while Ryan O'Reilly had a goal and an assist.
Sam I Am: Reinhart's first hat trick came in 2016 at Winnipeg. He now has 23 goals and 47 points for the season, tying his career highs in both categories.
Big second: The Sabres' five-goal middle period was the team's best single-period output since it logged five in the third period on Dec. 26, 2015 at Boston. That turned a 3-1 deficit into a 6-3 win in Eichel's first career game in his hometown.
Music City mania: The Sabres improved to 9-4 all-time in Nashville and have won three straight games here.
Rinne gets run: Nashville starting goaltender Pekka Rinne came into the game with 41 wins this season, and a 35-save shutout against Buffalo on March 19 in KeyBank Center. In fact, he had an 0.99 goals-against average and three shutouts in five games against the Sabres in his career. Didn't hold on this night. Rinne was pulled after two periods. He gave up six goals on 29 shots.
Another debut: Casey Mittelstadt played his first game for the Sabres on Thursday and another member of the first round of the 2017 draft class gets his first chance at an NHL game. Winger Eeli Tolvanen, taken by the Preds all the way down at No. 30, signed his entry-level deal on Thursday after a smashing season for Jokerit in the KHL and is heading right for the Preds' top line with center Ryan Johansen and fellow wing Viktor Arvidsson.
Tolvanen, 18, collected a hat trick in his KHL debut and finished the season with the most goals (19) and points (36) in league history by an under-19 player. He also represented Finland at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo and the Winter Olympics.
Mittelstadt got his second assist of the season on Okposo's first goal, which tied the game at 3-3 at 7:20 of the second period and brought the Sabres back from a 3-1 deficit.
Quick strike: The Sabres scored after just 43 seconds of the first period as Jason Pominville pounded home his 13th of the season off the edge of the crease on a Zemgus Girgensons feed. Eichel got the secondary assist, notching his career-high 58th point of the season.
Quick response: The Predators tied it at 2:59 as P.K. Subban rifled home his 16th of the season, with the puck hitting Ristolainen and deflecting past Johnson. It came on the power play and the Sabres complete control of the puck on the penalty kill before Johan Larsson simply flipped it away carelessly in the neutral zone.
Taking the lead: Nashville went into the dressing room with a 2-1 lead after the first period as Mattias Ekholm's shot with three minutes left in the period skittered home off Austin Watson's foot.
Welcome back, Phil: Sabres coach Phil Housley, an assistant here the last four seasons, received a scoreboard salute and big hand from the crowd during a first-period timeout. Housley waved to acknowledge the cheers.
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) April 1, 2018
Out of the lineup: The Predators made winger Filip Forsberg a surprise scratch for what the team termed "maintenance." He has 21 goals, 37 assists and is No. 2 on the team with 58 points.
In search of the Calder Cup: Sabres forward Kyle Criscuolo, out since March 5 with a shoulder injury, was sent back to Rochester Saturday morning. Criscuolo has no points in nine games for the Sabres this season but has 15 goals and 34 points in 50 games for the Amerks.
Up next: The Sabres stayed overnight and were slated to fly to Toronto on Sunday, where they will have a scheduled day off. They meet the Maple Leafs Monday night in Air Canada Centre in their final meeting of a season series that has Buffalo holding a 2-1 lead once it started on March 5. The home finale is Wednesday against Ottawa in KeyBank Center.