By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Sometimes nice guys finish first.
Jason Pominville, who as much as any member of the Buffalo Sabres fits that definition, had a day that certainly made him feel like a winner on Saturday.
He was honored before the game with the Ottawa Senators for the work in his entire career, which reached 1,000 games on Thursday. Then the veteran winger went out and showed that there’s still some gas in the tank for the second thousand. Pominville had two goals and an assist to lead Buffalo to an almost astounding 9-2 win in the KeyBank Center.
Nine to two? Flip those numbers, and you get Pominville’s uniform number, #29. It really must have been his day.
“It was a pretty emotional day,” the winger said. “I’ve put in a lot of effort over the years. I still do that. I keep trying to improve. I’ve been fortunate to play with some great players and stay healthy over the years.”
Right from the start
It all started with a very nice pregame ceremony, featuring gifts from the Sabres, his teammates and the NHL. Fittingly, the NHL representative was Jim Gregory, one of the classiest gentlemen in the sport’s history and someone else who more than qualifies as a “nice guy.” The fans were handed signs reading “Pominville 1000” upon their entrance to the building, and they were happy to show them whenever appropriate.
Then the game started, and the Sabres played as if they were inspired to excel. This was in contrast to Thursday, when the team came up very flat at the beginning of a game in Ottawa and never could catch up.
“We talked about that yesterday,” coach Phil Housley said. “We thought we picked up where we left off in the third period Thursday. We were ready to go. You could see our guys were focused.”
It didn’t take long for the fun to begin for the 17,881 in the building. Kyle Okposo, Jeff Skinner and Pominville scored in the first period to give the Sabres a huge lead after 20 minutes. But Buffalo was just getting warmed up.
The Sabres scored four goals in less than three minutes, even allowed one for the Senators in the middle of that barrage. Skinner, Zemgus Girgensons, Pominville and Conor Sheary had the goals. The fans seemed so happy that they almost didn’t know how to express themselves. They even reached back to the days of Memorial Auditorium (pre-1996, kids) to count up the goals: “One, two, three, four, five … we want six.”
“They were so engaged throughout the game,” Jack Eichel said. “Scoring a lot of goals helped get them into it. It was awesome.”
Hey, you never know
At that point, Pominville probably figured that things were going so good that it was time to buy a lottery ticket and claim a big jackpot. But maybe he was satisfied that good fortune had smiled on him enough on this day, and in his hockey career. If he needed a reminder of that, he only needed to look at the scoreboard – which kept playing tributes to him from those who have been around him throughout his long and distinguished career.
“Fortunately, we had a lead,” Pominville said. “I’d look up and hear most of it. A lot of people who meant a lot to me were up there. There were a lot of great memories.”
The Sabres fell short of double digits, which was about the only disappointment for the fans of a team that not too long ago couldn’t score nine goals in two weeks of play. Patrik Berglund and Casey Mittelstadt cleaned up the scoring with third-period goals to get the total to nine.
On the practical side, Pominville’s present play is far more important than past glories. He, Skinner and Eichel all finished with three points for the day. The line came together on October 20, and since then the three players are the leading scorers in the entire NHL. Skinner has 13 points, Pominville and Eichel have 12 each. It’s a little early to start coming up with nicknames for the trio, but they are a reason why the Sabres already have seven wins for the season.
“(Eichel) always makes the right play,” Skinner said. “He’s one of the top centers in the league. He dictates the pace of play. Me and Pommer just try to get open and put our sticks down on the ice, and he’ll find us.”
And at game’s end, the fans in the building rose to their feet with about 30 seconds left, and gave the Sabres a standing ovation that really could have lasted for much of the game. Memorable games have been rare around here at times as of late, and Pominville savored every last moment of this one.
“It was a great day,” he said. “The Sabres did a great job with everything, and it’s great to have the support from the fans that were here.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)