BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Luke Evangelista scored two goals in such quick succession, the Nashville Predators rookie joked it felt like they came on the same shift.
Evangelista’s goals came in a 39-second span as part of a four-goal second-period surge in which the Predators became the latest team to rout the reeling Buffalo Sabres in a 7-3 win on Tuesday night. He also added two assists to become the team’s first rookie to enjoy a four-point game since Dan Hamhuis had a goal and four assists in setting the franchise record in 2004.
The timeliness of the 21-year-old’s outburst in just his 11th NHL game was welcomed on an injury depleted Nashville team missing key veterans — Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi — and seeking a response following a 7-0 drubbing at the New York Rangers on Sunday.
“Pretty skinny roster, but we’ve got a lot of young guys that have come up and played really well,” said Matt Duchene, who scored twice and added an assist. “It shows a lot of character from our older guys all the way down to the youngest guy on the team.”
Tommy Novak, Philip Tomasino and defenseman Ryan McDonagh — in his first game after missing four with an upper body injury — had a goal an assist each. Juuse Saros stopped 28 shots and even picked up an assist in beating the Sabres for the first time in seven career starts (1-5-1).
The win allowed Nashville (35-26-8) to keep pace in the race for the Western Conference’s final two wild-card playoff spots. The Predators opened the day in 10th, five points behind eighth-place Winnipeg.
While the Predators bounced back, the Sabres had no answers following a 7-0 loss of their own to Boston on Sunday.
Buffalo dropped to 1-6-2 in its past nine, and 1-5-1 in its past six home games, a stretch in which the Sabres have been outscored by a combined 37-18 — including a 10-4 loss to Dallas on March 9.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of pressure. We can feel that,” Tage Thompson said of the Sabres opening March in playoff contention in a bid to end an 11-year postseason drought. “But we got to learn how to play with that, and that’s something we’re learning to do right now. We’re the same team, we just got to continue to simplify when things get difficult, not complicate the game for ourselves.”
Thompson scored his team-leading 43rd goal and first in nine games, and Jeff Skinner and Dylan Cozens also scored for Buffalo.
Craig Anderson allowed six goals on 20 shots before being pulled following McDonagh’s goal with 4:08 left in the second period. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen mopped up allowing no goals on six shots.
The game turned early in the second period after Cozens cut Nashville’s lead to 2-1.
Evangelista set up Novak for a breakaway goal just 24 seconds later, leading to Nashville scoring four straight in less than 12 minutes.
“You’ve got to move on quick,” McDonagh said of putting the loss in New York behind them.
“Obviously you’re not going to play perfect every night and we felt it wasn’t a lack of effort or even execution,” he added. “And I think we proved that tonight. Our offensive chances came off good defensive plays.”
Thompson’s 43 goals are the most by a Buffalo player since Thomas Vanek scored that many in 2006-07. … Rasmus Dahlin set up Thompson’s goal, becoming Buffalo’s third defenseman to reach the 50-assist plateau, and first since Phil Housley had 60 — a franchise record for blue liners — in 1989-90.
Predators: Return home for a two-game series against the Seattle Kraken on Thursday and Saturday.
Sabres: Close three-game homestand hosting New Jersey on Friday night.
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