BUFFALO – Above the din of the capacity crowd, Sabres winger Jack Quinn could hear center Dylan Cozens calling for the puck as they skated through the neutral zone.
Quinn and Cozens, who have showcased terrific chemistry as linemates this season, did not play together for most of Sunday afternoon’s 7-4 victory over the Washington Capitals. The Sabres, having lost top-line winger Alex Tuch to a lower-body injury for at least a few weeks, promoted Quinn to his spot beside center Tage Thompson and Jeff Skinner.
But about 12 minutes into the second period, as a tired Quinn neared the end of a shift after his linemates went off, he found himself on the ice with Cozens.
Quinn carried the puck into the zone and appeared to be moving to the right side when he quickly fed a streaking Cozens what he called “a bit of a no-look pass.”
Cozens grabbed the pass in the left circle, zoomed in on goal and slickly beat goalie Charlie Lindgren to put the Sabres up 6-2 at 12:49.
“I guess it was a little lucky that it landed right on his tape, but I was just trying to put it in his area and he skated right into it,” the rookie said of the second of Cozens’ three goals. “It worked out well.”
A lot of things worked out well Sunday for the surging Sabres, who moved back into a playoff spot pending the outcome of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ game later Sunday, in their third straight win.
The Sabres sorely needed players to step up with Tuch and top defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who missed the game and is day to day with an undisclosed injury, out Sunday.
Cozens and Quinn helped lead the charge, standing out all afternoon before the crowd of 19,070 fans at KeyBank Center.
Cozens put on a dazzling performance, recording the first hat trick and a four-point outing of his three-year NHL career. Quinn also assisted on Skinner’s goal and fought Nicolas Aube-Kubel, his first scrap. Thompson scored his career-high 40th goal. Twelve different Sabres registered points.
Coach Don Granato said the splendid performance by so many Sabres with two top talents injured shows the resolve of the group.
“What it says is, psychologically, that doesn’t affect them,” he said. “They’re competitive people. They believe in their own ability and their ability to rise and we’re gonna need guys to rise when players are absent, specifically the caliber of Tuch and Dahlin. … I don’t think these guys worry that there’s anything they can’t do in the absence of guys.”
Cozens performed dynamically, zooming around the ice all afternoon. The Yukon native opened the scoring 10:40 into the game and completed the hat trick 11:52 into the third period to seal just the Sabres 12th home win. He also assisted on winger Vinnie Hinostroza’s first goal this season.
“He definitely had his feet moving today,” Granato said. “You could tell he felt good and … the impact he had, a lot of it was speed. He could’ve had one or two more as well.”
Cozens, who pivoted Hinostroza and Casey Mittelstadt, said he “had a lot of help.”
“Guys setting me up left and right so all I had to do was put the puck in the net,” he said. “It was great to see everyone step up today and get depth scoring from everyone.”
Given his recent play, Quinn’s promotion to the top line was well earned. He now has six points in the last six games and is a plus-6.
“He’s been playing well lately and feeling confidence,” Granato said. “And this is another window of opportunity to give him that type of ice time, that type of situation knowing he’s building a foundation that’s stronger and stronger at the NHL level.”
Granato said finding Cozens at the end of that second-period shift illustrates his growth.
“He was tired, fatigued, and still had enough vision to see and end Cozens in alone,” he said. “Really indicative of a talented kid that’s improving every day.”
Cozens said: “He’s such an unbelievable player, he can shoot, score, and he can fight, too.”
That fight occurred 16:32 into the second period after Quinn apparently touched Lindgren.
“He just kind of came at me,” Quinn said of Aube-Kubel, who’s 22 pounds heavier. “I turned around and his gloves were off, so mine were too.”
Granato said “the fight showed a lot of grit, lot of heart.”
“I know our team, our bench was pretty excited about that,” he said.
Thompson’s 40-goal season is the 46th in franchise history and first since Skinner in 2018-19.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I think you obviously set goals for yourself at the beginning of the season, and that is something that I wanted to see if I could get this year. It’s kind of one of those things now, I guess, where you reach it and now you change your goal.”
The next step, of course, is scoring 50 goals.
“He’s certainly not near a limit to where we have to keep talking about what he can’t do,” Granato said. “He’s not even close to his limit, capacity – whatever you want to say – and it’s important he strives for more and more and more.”
Notes: Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 26 saves after Eric Comrie and Craig Anderson played the previous two games. … Winger Zemgus Girgensons scored the Sabres’ other goal. … Hinostroza, who was recalled Sunday morning, also had an assist. … Cozens’ first goal was his 100th NHL point. … Mittelstadt has registered nine points in his last eight games. … With Dahlin out, defenseman Jacob Bryson moved into the lineup and registered a plus-3. Kale Clague skated beside Mattias Samuelsson, Dahlin’s regular partner. … The Sabres scratched forward Rasmus Asplund for the sixth straight game. He skated in the pregame warm-up.