BUFFALO, NY - For the eighth time in as many tries this season, the Winnipeg Jets were unable to turn a two-game winning streak into three.
Worse, they lost their leading goal-scorer in the process.
Trying to gather a pass in the neutral zone, Patrik Laine got flattened with a devastating open-ice hit by Sabres defenceman Jake McCabe, and all hell broke loose.
With sticks and gloves littering the ice, Mark Scheifele was given the only penalty - a roughing minor - for going after McCabe. Laine, meanwhile, stayed down for several minutes before getting helped to the dressing room. He did not return.
Video: WPG@BUF: Laine takes big check, leaves game
That, after the game had already swung heavily in Buffalo's favour. The Sabres erased a 3-1 deficit with three unanswered goals in front half of the third, and the Jets were unable to battle back, dropping a 4-3 decision.
Winnipeg got goals from Nikolaj Ehlers, and former Sabres Drew Stafford and Joel Armia, but it wasn't enough. Connor Hellebuyck made 32 saves.
Head Coach Paul Maurice, who did not have a problem with the hit, had no update on Laine's condition following the game.
"I didn't think we were sitting back. They changed gears on us," he said. "We didn't make very many puck mistakes in the first two (periods) and our assignments were real clean. We turned some pucks over in the neutral zone, had some bad changes in the neutral zone and got beat to the front of the net. It's real disappointing to have a period and then the game end up like that after playing some real strong road hockey in the last two games."
Video: POSTGAME | Paul Maurice
With the Jets up by two entering the third period, the Sabres came out flying and quickly tied the game with a pair of quick goals by Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons.
Foligno took a breakaway pass from Cody Franson and made a slick move on the forehand, sliding it just across to the line to make it a one-goal game. Then, just 26 seconds later, Girgensons tied it as he tucked home a loose puck on a delayed penalty.
Moments later, Laine was knocked down and the game changed for good.
Brian Gionta scored the eventual game-winner at 9:54, jumping on a loose puck in the slot, bringing it across the blue paint and roofing a shot to put the Sabres up 4-3.
"They started getting pucks to our net and after that first one went in, they were just buzzing in our zone," captain Blake Wheeler said. "We couldn't get them against the wall, couldn't get out of our zone. They just kept funnelling pucks to the front of the net and got a few to go in."
Video: POSTGAME | Blake Wheeler
On the hit, Wheeler said it was "really tough" to see a teammate go down like that.
"Don't know anything about it yet, so I'm hoping for the best.
"The momentum was shifting at that point, so that probably bumped it in their direction even more. We're down a goal and he can provide instant offence and not having him on your bench definitely hurt."
The Jets had a strong first 40 minutes, and with the teams tied early in the second period, they took control of the game as the former Sabres went to work with a couple of quick goals.
At 2:31, Stafford bowled his way to the net and on his third crack in the blue paint - out of mid-air, no less - he chopped home his third of the year to give the Jets a 2-1 lead on the power play.
Video: WPG@BUF: Stafford knocks in his own rebound for lead
"We definitely felt we were in control for the majority of the game, but that's the way the ebbs and flows of this game go sometimes, especially for the home team," Stafford said.
"When they get one, it's our job on the bench to [stop the momentum]."
Armia made it a 3-1 game only 5:21 later he jumped on a rebound from an Adam Lowry shot and deposited the loose puck into the open side past Robin Lehner for his first in 11 games.
"They (Armia, Adam Lowry and Shawn Matthias) were real dominant in the third period when we needed some zone time," Maurice said. "They're a real consistent group and it's good to see him get some more pucks to the net because Joel has had a whole lot of chances."
The Jets were thoroughly in control, outshooting the Sabres 11-0 before Hellebuyck was finally tested near the 12-minute mark of the period. Moments later, he had to be sharp as the home side woke up and poured on the pressure, but a ridiculous left-pad save off Foligno kept the Jets in front by two.
Back-to-back penalties - one to Andrew Copp, and the other to Nic Petan - gave the Sabres an extended look on the power play and a great chance to make a game of it, but the Jets came up with a great kill in front of their hot 'tender.
Shots favoured Winnipeg 30-20 after 40 minutes of play.
"We're going to chew on this one for a while," Maurice said. "Up until we got the three consecutive penalties at the end of the second, I thought our game was about as good as it could be. You have to build on that, but it's going to be tough to let that one go."
Ehlers opened the scoring for the Jets, who recorded the first eight shots of the game, less than five minutes into the contest. The winger took a feed from Laine on a 2-on-1 and fired it bar down for his 14th of the season, putting him just one shy of the 15 he scored during his rookie campaign one year ago. Mark Scheifele was credited with the second assist, as he took a big hit to make a play in the neutral zone, creating the odd-man situation.
Video: WPG@BUF: Ehlers goes skate to stick off Laine's feed
Ehlers, meanwhile, now has nine goals in his last nine games, including five in his last four.
With the goal, all three players on that line extended their point streaks to four straight games.
The Jets were in control for much of the opening frame, but they slowed down in the final few minutes and allowed the Sabres to even the score with only 23 seconds left. Ryan O'Reilly - who recently returned after missing four games due to an appendectomy - buried one five-hole after getting a terrific cross-seam pass from Sam Reinhart, immediately following a Winnipeg turnover.
Hellebuyck bit, opening up as O'Reilly dusted it off at the bottom of the circle before sliding it home.
After one, the Jets were outshooting the Sabres 15-10.
- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com