BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Energized by a sellout crowd and another opportunity to wear their slick, black throwbacks, the Sabres looked sharp for the most part in returning from a weeklong break.

Captain Kyle Okposo scored a hat trick, Casey Mittelstadt netted a pair of goals, Jeff Skinner scored his 17th of the season, and the Sabres opened a big enough lead through two periods to hold off a late surge from the Detroit Red Wings in winning 6-3 on Thursday night at sold-out KeyBank Center.

“Special night, for sure,” Okposo said. “It just felt good to play a game at home, and after everything that happened this weekend.”

Skating in a sold-out building for the second time in 18 home dates, the Sabres memorialized the lives of more than 40 residents who died during the longest sustained blizzard in Western New York history. The Buffalo Sabres Foundation announced before the game that it would donate $50,000 to community organizations involved in the relief effort.

“We’re trying to become part of the glue that helps this community heal and holds this community together,” Okposo said. “We tried to go show that on the ice tonight.”

Buffalo resumed its season-best streak with a fifth straight win, playing for the first time in 10 days after a monumental winter storm postponed two games around the NHL’s holiday break.

“It was almost business as usual,” Okposo said. “We were thinking there might be a little bit of rust, but we were sharp this morning and we were sharp to start the period. I don’t think there were many mishandles or bobbles and things that can happen after the break. Maybe a little fatigue in the third and we kind of sat back on our heels a little bit and that might be a product of not playing a game in a while, but I thought overall we did a pretty good job tonight.”

The five-game streak is Buffalo’s longest since setting a franchise record with 10 consecutive victories in November, 2018. They have a 24-9 goal differential over the past five games. Buffalo also remained unbeaten in four games when wearing its retro ‘goat head’ sweaters, with 24-11 scoring margin in those victories.

Black hats swarmed the ice when Okposo scored his sixth of the season and third of the night on a rush late in the third period. Okposo had two goals in a 2:41 span of the second period. The hat trick is Okposo’s third of his career, and first in 406 games with the Sabres.

“I think it’s very symbolic,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “This is a guy that has embedded himself and his family in this community. What the community is going through, has just gone through in the last nine days that we’ve been off is significant.”

The Sabres scored four goals in 13 minutes to take a 5-0 lead in the second period.

Mittelstadt tallied his second career multi-goal game and first in three seasons. He got the first goal off a rebound 15:32 into the first period, and knocked the second one off a Red Wing stick on a power play midway through the second.

“The crowd was just awesome,” said Mittelstadt, who drove a rental car to Buffalo this week after flying from Minnesota to Columbus before learning the Sabres game on Tuesday had been rescheduled. “I think they really helped us get back into it. It’s always hard off a long break to come and play right away. And to have that energy tonight was awesome for us.”

Skinner notched his 200th point in 304 games with the Sabres when he stole the puck and scored an unassisted goal to make it 2-0 at 1:20 of the second period. Skinner has scored in four consecutive games since returning and recorded a point in each of his past nine outings. He has 37 points in 30 games this season.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 28 saves to win his third straight start. Owen Power, Zemgus Girgensons and JJ Peterka each had two assists.


Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.