BUFFALO – About 23 minutes into the Sabres’ 4-1 triumph Friday, rookie Travis Turnbull grabbed a loose puck off a faceoff, skated out of the zone and began creating a memorable first NHL goal inside New York’s historic Madison Square Garden.
When Turnbull reached the red line, he shot the puck in and zoomed by the Rangers’ Stu Bickel. The center then briefly retrieved his dump-in, throwing the puck out from behind the net as Bickel hit him.
The puck then hit John Mitchell’s skate and deflected through goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s pads.
Down on the ice, Turnbull heard linemate Cody McCormick yelling, “You scored!”
“It was just a feeling that you dream of as a little kid,” Turnbull said Saturday inside the First Niagara Center prior to the Sabres’ 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild. “It happened (Friday) night at Madison Square Garden.”
More than 800 miles away at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in St. Louis, Turnbull’s hometown, his friends watching the game “were going crazy,” he said.
For the undrafted Turnbull, scoring in just his second game during a heated playoff race at a hallowed arena was “awesome.”
“Oh my gosh … all the guys were so great to me, especially (Brad) Boyes and McCormick helping me out my first couple games in the NHL and (they) told me what a big goal it was,” Turnbull said. “ … It was good but even better we got the win.”
Turnbull said he looked over his shoulder and was trying to feed Boyes.
“I just got fortunate enough to off Mitchell’s skate there and go five hole,” he said.
Neither Turnbull nor Sabres coach Lindy Ruff cared how the puck went in the net.
“It’s a goal in the NHL, and I couldn’t have been happier to score it,” said Turnbull, who fought Nick Johnson on Saturday, his first NHL scrap.
Ruff called the opening score “the greatest goal of the game.”
“I thought the effort to get there (was great),” he said. “We got a bounce, obviously. We’ve had some situations where we didn’t get them. But it was a good time for us.”
Turnbull’s father, Perry Turnbull, who scored 188 NHL goals, told his son via text message he had done a “great job.”
He’s the sixth Sabre to score his first NHL goal this season. Twenty-nine Sabres have tallied this season. Both are the most since 1992-93.
Turnbull couldn’t celebrate long. Later in the period, he blew his coverage in front, allowing an open Brian Boyle to easily score.
“I probably should’ve had a stick on Boyle there,” Turnbull said. “He kind of jumped by me.”
Not surprisingly, the 25-year-old’s noticed a big difference between the AHL and big leagues.
“It’s definitely faster,” he said. “The caliber of players here, you got (Marian) Gaborik and (Brad) Richards out there (Friday) night. They’re highly skilled, so you have to be highly skilled, especially in the D-zone.”
While the likable Turnbull, who’s subbing for Patrick Kaleta (upper body), is clearly excited to be with the Sabres, so are his family, friends and other supporters, who have bombarded him with messages since his recall Tuesday night.
“My Twitter, my phone, my Facebook – from the second I got called up … it’s been crazy,” Turnbull said. “I’ve been trying to get back to people through kind of one message saying, ‘I’ll get back to everybody when it kind of settles down here. I’m just trying to concentrate on the games.’”
Call Sabres center Cody Hodgson the “Road Warrior.”
The 22-year-old rookie, a trade deadline acquisition from Vancouver, is on pace to play an NHL-record 48 road games this season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Darryl Sydor (1995-96) and Niklas Hagman (2005-06) both played 47 away contests. Mike Foligno holds the Sabres’ high with 46 in 1981-82.
Hodgson’s made nine of his 13 Buffalo appearances on the road. Going back to his Canucks tenure, he’s played 18 of the last 26 away.
The travel and trade hubbub probably caught up to Hodgson, who’s been receiving extra minutes in Buffalo. He went pointless his first 10 games, and then had two straight two-point games last week.
With six games left in the regular season, will Sabres backup goalie Jhonas Enroth play again?
The rookie has appeared sparingly in recent months, making only two starts since Jan. 18.
“We made a decision earlier in the week what the schedule’s going to be and we’re sticking to it,” said Ruff, who’s notoriously tight-lipped about announcing his starting goalie.
Saturday marked the Sabres’ final set of back-to-back games. There was some speculation Enroth, who last started March 8, could get the nod.