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Sabres' Jeff Skinner ends scoring drought with third-period goal

PITTSBURGH -- There was no significant celebration or expression of joy from Jeff Skinner when he pushed the Buffalo Sabres' lead to three goals in the third period Saturday in PPG Paints Arena.

Skinner didn't say much about the goal, his 12th of the season, when speaking to the media in the aftermath of a 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The two-time All-Star did not want to use the term "relief" when asked what emotions he experienced after snapping a career-long 22-game goal drought that dated back to Dec. 2.

Skinner, who signed an eight-year, $72 million contract last June, said he was simply happy to contribute to an important road win over one of the best teams in the National Hockey League.

"I felt pretty good," Skinner said with a smile. "I don’t know. I feel like I scored a few times and usually it feels pretty good. ... You can use ‘relief,’ I guess, if that sort of fits the story line because of how long it’s been. I don’t know. I just feel happy to get another goal and add to the lead a little bit more."

Skinner's teammates expressed excitement, though. The 27-year-old redirected a pass from Marcus Johansson between goalie Tristan Jarry's leg pads at 5:39 into the third period for a 4-1 Sabres lead. It was the end of a bizarre scoring drought in which Skinner consistently created scoring chances.

His drive to the net Tuesday in Ottawa resulted in Brandon Montour scoring the Sabres' first goal in a 7-4 loss. A strong defensive play by Michael Frolik earned Skinner a 2-on-1 opportunity in the second period Saturday, but his wrist shot was stopped by Jarry.

This was one of Skinner's better all-around games since he suffered an upper-body injury against Boston on Dec. 28. He tied Kyle Okposo for the team lead with three shots on goal and had two hits in 13:45 of ice time in his 12th game since returning to the Sabres' lineup.

"They were really celebrating," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said of his players' reaction to Skinner scoring. "I mean, this group really cheers for each other. You could see the faces. Jeff’s beaming but everybody else, too, and cheering loud. So let that be the beginning of some momentum for him."

New assignment

Krueger declined to say whether Jack Eichel not taking any faceoffs against Pittsburgh was related to the center's absence from practice Thursday. Sam Reinhart centered the Sabres' top line, winning five of 14 faceoffs during his 18:04 of ice time.

Eichel missed practice Thursday for what Krueger called "maintenance" though the 23-year-old showed no signs of potential injury when he scored his 34th and 35th goals of the season Saturday.

"There’s really no conversation around it," Krueger said. "We know that Jack had a maintenance day. We know that it’s that time of year. We’re just playing it safe. We got Sam who can take draws really well and Curtis (Lazar). But Jack’s fine, Jack’s feeling good."

Hutton's response

Sabres goalie Carter Hutton stopped 41 of 43 shots to earn his fifth win in six starts. The 34-year-old allowed six goals on 39 shots Tuesday in Ottawa.

Krueger called Hutton the Sabres' "most important penalty killer," a point that was illustrated during a first-period Pittsburgh power play in which Buffalo's goalie stopped Sidney Crosby's rebound chance. Afterward, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan noted that Hutton was the reason why Pittsburgh was unable to overcome the early three-goal deficit.

"I thought we played hard," Sullivan said. "We battled to try to get back into the game, but give their goaltender credit. He made some big saves for them. That's hockey. That's why you can't beat yourself because sometimes you're going to run into a goalie that makes some big saves."

Bogosian clears

Former Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian cleared unconditional waivers Saturday, paving the way for his contract to be terminated by the team. The 29-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent and can sign elsewhere, though he will need to have his contract completed by 3 p.m. Monday to be eligible for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Sabres have an estimated $8.4 million in salary cap space, though they need to allocate some of that money for performance bonuses on players' entry-level contracts.

Bogosian, who was acquired from Winnipeg in February 2015, had one goal with four assists in 19 games this season. Injuries limited Bogosian to 243 games with the Sabres, as he recorded 13 goals with 54 assists and a minus-49 rating.

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