BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A big crowd packed KeyBank Center on the biggest party night of the year, reveling in 1990s nostalgia and the return of the retro “goat head” Sabres uniforms.
The Sabres’ performance in a 6-2 win Wednesday night against the Blues sent the crowd into the streets with something to celebrate.
The game started with Sabretooth rappelling from the rafters and a 90s-themed hype video featuring an Empire Sports Network opening graphic and a cameo from Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee Ryan Miller. It concluded with Buffalo’s mascot waving a white bison flag while the Sabres raised their sticks to salute the crowd of 17,302 at the downtown arena that opened in 1996, the same year Buffalo adopted the black and red sweaters .
“That was unbelievable,” said Alex Tuch, the Baldwinsville native who grew up rooting for the Sabres. “You saw the crowd get into it. Started doing the wave. Started doing the Buffalo chant. They were on top of it. They were dialed in. They were in the game from the drop of the puck, and it really helped our team tonight.”
Jeff Skinner and Jack Quinn each scored twice, Dylan Cozens and Victor Olofsson also scored, and Buffalo won its second in a row following an eight-game skid. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who was born during the Sabres’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, made 34 saves for his first NHL victory of the year.
“It was great to see how many fans we had tonight,” said Luukonen, who was serenaded with “UPL” chants in the third period. “I think that’s a big lift for the whole team and we always appreciate that. Most of all that builds up your confidence, but it always helps when the fans are backing you up.”
Quinn, the rookie born at the beginning of Stu Barnes’ captaincy in 2001, recorded the first multi-goal game of his career.
Skinner also had two goals in Tuesday night’s 7-2 win at Montreal, marking the first time in five seasons with the Sabres that Skinner has tallied multiple goals in consecutive games. Skinner scored 18 seconds into Wednesday’s contest, after the Sabres had three goals in the first 2:13 against the Canadiens. It was the third time in franchise history the Sabres have scored in the opening minute of consecutive games, and first since Ales Kotalik accomplished the feat wearing a slug sweater in December, 2006.
Tuch, who assisted on both Skinner goals to extend his point streak to five games, wore a suit lined with “goat head” logos to celebrate the occasion.
“Maybe we fed off that,” Skinner said. “Maybe he has to wear that suit more often.”
The uniform appeal and large crowd mixed with the Sabres’ strong play for a festive atmosphere. Skinner and the Sabres swapped their goal songs to fit the ’90s night theme. The organist played the theme from “Friends.” The crowd continued singing a cappella after songs such as the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” and 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Going On” were played in the arena.
“The energy was great,” coach Don Granato said. “The guys were very excited going into tonight knowing what the night was. There was lots of chatter about the uniform and the history of the team and the franchise. Our guys love that stuff. They felt it tonight and I think the crowd was incredible in helping that.”
The Sabres (9-11-0) continue their homestand Friday night against Lindy Ruff’s New Jersey Devils.
Getting his second start since Eric Comrie sustained a lower-body injury, Luukkonen’s best save came with 4:24 left, when he kicked out his right pad to stop Vladimir Tarasenko on the doorstep.
Pavel Buchnevich and Brayden Schenn scored for the Blues (10-9-0), who had won seven in a row. Jordan Kyrou had an assist to extend his points streak to six games (two goals, nine points). Jordan Binnington stopped 25 shots in his first loss in seven starts, and was denied in his bid to win his 100th career game.
Skinner’s opening goal came when he collected a pass at the end boards to the left of the net, stepped toward the circle and lifted a shot in off the crossbar.
The Sabres then responded with three goals over a 11-minute span in the second period, and after Buchnevich tied the game with a power-play goal 53 seconds into the frame.
Skinner capped the surge by driving in from the left boards, stick-handling the puck through this legs to avoid Justin Falk, and then going against the grain by back-handing in a shot inside the left post.
Tage Thompson, who has blossomed into Buffalo’s top offensive threat since being acquired in the trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis in July 2019, was denied on two highlight-reel chances.
Driving to the net, he fooled the defender and drew Binnington out of position by faking outside before cutting in, and was facing a wide-open net, only to have his shot hit the post. The puck caromed back to Thompson, and his follow-up shot was blocked by the stick of Blues defenseman Calle Rosen 6:20 into the game.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.