Hats were thrown onto the KeyBank Center ice for the first time in 14 months Saturday afternoon when Sam Reinhart scored an empty-net goal with 56 seconds left in regulation.
The 23-year-old's hat-trick-clinching goal, the Buffalo Sabres' first on home ice since Dec. 15, 2017, sealed a 5-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals and snapped a four-game losing streak.
Reinhart, drafted second overall in 2014, has blossomed into a dynamic two-way player during his fourth full season with the Sabres. He has 17 goals among a career-high 55 points in 61 games this season.
"Anytime time you can do it at home, it’s that much more special," Reinhart said of the hat trick.
Reinhart has also set career highs in assists (38) and multi-point games (16), and the Sabres are 30-4-7 in his career when he records at least two points. Entering Saturday's game, he was on pace for 19 goals with 52 assists and could go a second consecutive season without missing a game.
Reinhart has proven he doesn't need to play with Jack Eichel to succeed and has helped balance the Sabres' scoring since moving to the second line, proving he too can make those around him better.
Skating alongside Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues with Casey Mittelstadt out because of an illness, Reinhart gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead by beating Braden Holtby high blocker at 12:51 into the first period.
“He’s been playing great for us all year," said Eichel. "It’s no surprise. He goes to the front of the net, he makes a lot of small plays that I think go unnoticed, so it was great to see him get rewarded with a hat trick tonight. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
The Capitals cut their deficit to one goal when Andre Burakovsky scored 4:16 into the third period. However, the Sabres answered one minute, 27 seconds later. Reinhart fought his way to the front of the net, maneuvered around Washington center Nicklas Backstrom before deflecting Matt Hunwick's shot into the net for a 4-2 lead.
Reinhart then added the empty-net goal to help the Sabres improve to 29-24-8.
"I think he’s finally getting rewarded," Housley said of Reinhart. "How many pucks did he tip on the power play that haven’t gone in? Finally he gets one. He’s in the right position. He’s very, very good down there in front of the net."
Rasmus Dahlin needed two one-timers to score the Sabres' third goal. The 18-year-old defenseman snapped his stick on the first attempt, forcing him to retrieve a backup shaft from the bench.
There was one problem: Dahlin forgot to tape his backup stick. That did not stop him from one-timing a pass from Eichel over Holtby's glove with 31 seconds left in the second period.
"He didn't have any tape on it, so [the shot] sort of knuckled on Holtby," Housley recalled with a laugh. "It's funny but that's the type of player he is, he can make adjustments on the fly."
Wingers Danny O'Regan and Scott Wilson, both recalled from Rochester Friday, played 11:56 and 11:52, respectively, in their first game with the Sabres this season. O'Regan nearly scored a goal in the third period but was unable to push the puck past the goal line, and Wilson was tied for a team-high four shots on goal.
"We had some guys play some big games for us tonight," said Eichel. "It was good to see [Wilson] get back out here. It was a physical game. I thought he was a big part of that. … It was good to see Dano playing. I thought he chipped in and had a couple chances. You could say a lot about the full team effort. We’re happy to get two points at home."