NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Buffalo Sabres saw defenseman Victor Antipin taken off the ice on a stretcher after being boarded. Then, they took it out on the Nashville Predators by scoring three goals on the ensuing 5-minute major.
“We were able to make them pay a little bit,” Buffalo center Sam Reinhart said.
Reinhart had a hat trick with Jack Eichel adding a career-high five assists as the Sabres stunned the NHL-leading Predators 7-4 Saturday night.
“It’s never easy to see a teammate get injured,” Eichel said. “It was a good job by our team responding and putting it on the scoreboard where it counts.”
The Predators needed a win and a regulation loss by Winnipeg to clinch their first Central Division title, and a loss by Vegas in any fashion for the defending Western Conference champs for their first conference banner in the regular season. But Winnipeg beat Toronto 3-1, and the Predators played a sloppy game giving up a season-high in goals to the NHL’s last-place team.
Despite a league-worst 60 points, the Sabres outshot Nashville from the start and chased goalie Pekka Rinne after he gave up six goals on 29 shots through two periods.
Jason Pominville and Ryan O’Reilly also scored for Buffalo, and Eichel tied a franchise single-game record with his assists.
P.K. Subban, Austin Watson, Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino scored for Nashville.
The Sabres took control with the three goals — two by Reinhart — during those 5 minutes after Antipin was boarded by Nashville forward Scott Hartnell behind the Buffalo net at 14:09 of the second. Antipin was strapped to a backboard and taken off the ice on a stretcher.
“The guys rallied around Victor and made a point to come out, and that was the difference in the game,” Buffalo coach Phil Housley said.
Reinhart tied it up at 4 just 55 seconds into the power play, and he put Buffalo ahead at 17:18 with his second goal. Kyle Okposo scored his second of the night at 19:00 for the big lead.
“You’re taught as a young kid obviously to finish your checks,” Hartnell said of his hit on Antipin. “I wasn’t head-hunting. We were leading the game at that time. A 5-minute penalty, and they scored three quick ones and it’s a totally different ballgame. It’s just unfortunate. I feel really bad about it.”
This game also marked the NHL debut of Nashville rookie Eeli Tolvanen , and coach Peter Laviolette gave Filip Forsberg the night off and replaced him with the Finn who set the KHL scoring record for an 18-year-old with Jokerit before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
Pominville started the scoring 43 seconds in. Nashville led 2-1 at the end of the first with Subban scoring on a slap shot that deflected off Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen at 2:59 for a rare Nashville power-play goal. The Predators came into the game 3 of 49 on the man advantage since March 1.
Nashville led 2-1 at 17:00 of the first on Watson’s goal, and Turris made it 3-1 a couple minutes into the second.
O’Reilly scored at 5:45 of the second on the power play, and Okposo tied it up at 3 with a wrister from the slot off a rebound at 7:20. The Predators took a 4-3 lead at 12:50 when Bonino hopped over Johnson’s left leg and backhanded the puck into the net. Buffalo lots its challenge for goaltender interference with Johnson on his belly in the crease.
Reinhart got his hat trick at 11:43 of the third. Buffalo finished 4 of 9 on the power play.
“We came out flat the whole 60 minutes,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said. “We never played up to our potential, and it just wasn’t good enough.”
NOTES: Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville’s leading goal scorer, played only 43 seconds of the second before going to the locker room to stay. The Predators had no update on his status after the game. … Eichel had Buffalo’s first five-point game since Thomas Vanek on Jan. 31, 2013, at Boston. Eichel now has 102 career assists. … Fisher played in his 1,100th career NHL game.
Sabres: Visit Toronto on Monday night.
Predators: Visit Tampa Bay on Sunday.
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