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Sabres lose but All-Star nod, 30th goal makes Skinner's night finer in Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. — It was a whirlwind of a day for Jeff Skinner in the old homestead.

Swarmed by media in the morning, Skinner got the word he was an All-Star for the second time in his career in the afternoon. Then, under the bright lights Friday night in PNC Arena, Skinner got an ultra-warm welcome from Carolina fans he played in front of for eight seasons and became a 30-goal scorer for the fourth time in his career.

"It's a little different, exciting but it's a big game for us too," Skinner said prior to the Buffalo Sabres' 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes. "There's a lot of stuff that goes through your head when you look back on my whole time here. I have nothing but great memories here and good friendships. I'm excited to see a lot of guys. The fans treated me exceptionally well and I had a great time playing here."

Skinner played 539 games for the Canes after getting drafted seventh overall in 2010. He won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2011 after a 31-goal season and had a trio of 30-goal campaigns in Carolina. He finished with 204 goals and 379 points in 579 games.

At the first TV timeout, the Canes showed a video presentation on their jumbotron with highlights of Skinner's career in red and black and some of his moments interacting with fans and children in the community. One clip had him wearing a penguin suit while he was visiting a hospital.

Skinner was circling in front of the Buffalo bench during the video and was smiling as he took several peeks up at the board. By the time the video ended, most of the fans were on their feet cheering and a smiling Skinner waved to the crowd to salute them back.

"It was cool. Obviously a lot of memories come back when you watch it," Skinner said. "It was nice, a good feeling. It sort of summarizes my time here, the way I feel. I had a good time as a player here and as part of the community."

The fans were cheering for an all-star, as Skinner won the Atlantic Division "Last Men In" vote announced by the NHL Friday and will join Jack Eichel at the game Jan. 26 in San Jose. Also chosen were Pittsburgh's Kris Letang (Metropolitan Division), Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog (Central) and Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl (Pacific).

The Sabres will thus have multiple representatives for the first time since Daniel Briere, Ryan Miller and Brian Campbell suited up for the Eastern Conference in Dallas in 2007. Lindy Ruff was the East's coach in that game. It will be Skinner's second all-star appearance and his first was in 2011, when it was hosted by the Hurricanes.

"Obviously getting in a little bit of a different way, it's pretty cool to share it with the fans and my teammates," Skinner said. "You're not going to have a good season unless your teammates are playing well. That's the cool part. … My family was thinking about it more than me. It just shows the passion and how much the fans love the Sabres. It's a pretty cool feeling."

"It's going to be a blast having him there," said Eichel, who had no points in his return to the lineup after missing three games with an upper-body injury. "I'm really excited to be there with him. For him to come in here and get the standing ovation from the fans and all the support and love, it was great. He's such a good dude and we're really happy for him."

Skinner said he's quickly learned about Buffalo as a hockey market during his 4 1/2 months in the city.

"When you're a visiting team member, you get a snapshot," he said. "Once you get into a city, become part of a community and are walking around every day seeing how much they love sports there, how much they love the Sabres, how much they love the Bills, it's definitely something I didn't really grasp fully until I moved to Buffalo. It's pretty special to be part of that."

Skinner joined the 30-goal club for the fourth time in his career on a power-play tally with 20.7 seconds left in the first period, as he batted a Rasmus Dahlin rebound out of midair past Carolina goalie Curtis McElhinney. Skinner became Buffalo's first 30-goal man since Jason Pominville in 2012.

"It's nice to contribute and get an early PP one there, maybe jump start the PP," Skinner said of a Buffalo unit that was 1 for 4 in the game and is 2 for 14 in the last six. "We can kind of build off that and keep working for the next one."

Skinner is heading into unrestricted free agency and contract talks are expected to open soon between Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill and Skinner's representatives from Newport Sports. With Skinner on a 55-goal pace, it's reasonable to think he's looking at a contract north of $8 million per season on a long-term extension.

Skinner joined Washington's Alex Ovechkin (32) as the NHL's only 30-goal scorers to date. Skinner's pace would leave him with the most by a Sabre since Alexander Mogilny's 76-goal season in 1992-93.

"It's tough to foresee something like that. A lot of things have to go right," Skinner said. "You have to have an opportunity. Your team has to be playing well, your line has to be playing well. Fortunately for me I've been on the right end of some plays."

Skinner said he was aware of the "Skinner for Mayor" signs that were tweeted recently from the One Buffalo account run by Pegula Sports and Entertainment. The site created a Jeffskinnerformayor.com URL that directly linked to the NHL's fan voting site.

"That's another thing my family and friends picked up on and showed me," he said. "I'm not sure I'm qualified but it's pretty funny."

The Wraparound: Hurricanes 4, Sabres 3

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