With exactly one minute to play in the third period of a 2-1 game in which they trailed, the Buffalo Sabres got one last shot at redemption.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson closed his hand on the puck behind the net, giving Buffalo 60 seconds to tie the game and break a three-game streak without a power-play goal. Goaltender Linus Ullmark went to the bench, giving the Sabres a two-man advantage.
The Sabres produced five shot attempts in a wild last minute, but four were blocked and the other missed the net as St. Louis held strong to hand Buffalo its fifth-straight loss by a score of 2-1 Monday night at First Niagara Center.
“We’ve got to hit the net at a time like that,” Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly said. “We’ve got to win the battle in front of the net. Passing it around, it’s good, but it’s just what they want.”
Despite the loss, Buffalo largely played the game they wanted throughout the 60 minutes. On offense, the Sabres created opportunities but missed open nets. Defensively, they limited the Blues’ scoring chances, but lost on a play that can be chalked up to a bad bounce.
With the game tied 1-1 and 6:34 remaining on the clock in the third period, the puck slid past a diving Ullmark to give St. Louis the lead. Blues forward Robby Fabbri had taken a shot from the slot that appeared to get caught somewhere on defenseman Josh Gorges’ body.
Gorges never realized where the puck was and turned to defend Fabbri from getting to a potential rebound. Meanwhile, the puck fell to the ice and bounced off his skate toward the goal line. By the time Ullmark realized where the puck was, he was too late.
“Hit me in front, went to clear the puck, what it hit off of or what happened – it must have went off [Fabbri] and came back,” Gorges said. “Bounced in our net.”
Buffalo had entered the third period with a 1-0 lead thanks to an unassisted goal from forward David Legwand. Troy Brouwer evened the score 5:07 into the period when he received the puck on a rebound in the slot and sent a backhand past Ullmark.
All in all, however, the game came down to another case of missed opportunities for the Sabres.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “There was a lot of good in a lot of areas from our team … you’d like to find some goals in there.”
“We’re creating good opportunities,” Gorges said. “We keep creating those opportunities, they’re going to fall for us. It sucks to lose this game the way we lost it tonight. I thought we deserved a better fate, I thought the guys competed hard, battled hard; we gave ourselves a chance to win the game tonight.”
Right from the start, the Sabres put themselves in positions to score but couldn’t quite come through.
Buffalo twice hit the post in the first period, first on a point-blank shot from the slot for O’Reilly and then when a loose puck landed in front of Johan Larsson alone in front. Those chances, combined with a misconnection on a 2-on-1 one-time pass across the net from Sam Reinhart to Jack Eichel, gave Buffalo plenty of opportunity to take an early lead.
Given the chances that didn’t pan out, it seemed like the Sabres might never find the back of the net with the game still scoreless in the second. Evander Kane missed an opportunity to score on another one-timer early in the period and, on the very next shift, Nicolas Deslauriers was unable to connect on an immobile puck in front of a wide-open net.
Then, with 3:15 to play in the period, a break finally went Buffalo’s way. Blues forward Kyle Brodziak, battling with Deslauriers for the puck behind the net, accidentally tipped the puck out in front where Legwand stood waiting.
Legwand threw the puck in-between the pads of goaltender Jake Allen and off it caromed off the back of his left skate to give the Sabres forward his first goal of the season.
“Nic had a good forecheck and he turned the puck over and [I] kind of just tried to get it on net,” Legwand said. “It muffled around his pads and made it through.”
Ullmark did his part to maintain the scoreless tie in the first. He flashed his quick glove on multiple occasions, first when he robbed former Sabres captain Steve Ott on a shorthanded breakaway and then when he stopped Robby Fabbri following a turnover at the blue line.
“You thought, the way our goaltender was playing, that one was going to be enough to possible win that game,” Bylsma said.
Ullmark continued his strong play throughout, making 24 saves in the loss.
MAYDAY’S MOMENT(S) OF THE GAME
“1. The goaltender’s best friend - the goal post - reared its ugly head a few times tonight, both early and late.
2. Buffalo’s best chances came from cycles off the rush. But even when they beat Jake Allen, they couldn’t find the back of the net.
I believe that this team is close. They can’t deviate from their plan. They will be rewarded.”
- Sabres Studio Analyst Brad May
POWER-PLAY PROBLEMS CONTINUE
The Sabres have gone three games without a power-play goal for the first time this season after going 0-for-3 with the man advantage Monday night. Buffalo also went 0-for-3 in Dallas on Saturday and 0-for-4 in St. Louis on Thursday.
The Sabres will play the second leg of a three-game homestand when they host the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night at First Niagara Center. Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can be heard on WGR 550 with puck drop set for 7 p.m.