COLUMBUS - In a game that had been a tale of missed opportunities through 35 minutes, one missed chance on a breakaway could have been the turning point for the Buffalo Sabres against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.
Trailing 1-0 in the second period, Ryan O'Reilly was the benefactor of a turnover in the Buffalo zone and raced for a 2-on-0 rush, with linemate Benoit Pouliot trailing. His shot was stoned by Sergei Bobrovsky, and shortly thereafter the Blue Jackets began a string of three goals in a span of 2:59 for an eventual 5-1 win.
O'Reilly put much of the onus on himself for missing what could have been the game-tying shot. Phil Housley, however, said the loss was more a matter of what came next.
"It's just, how do you react to that?" the Sabres coach said. "We understand it's a big turning point, could have been a tied game there, but how do you react form that point moving forward? We just lost that little bit of discipline in our game to just stay with it."
Video: BUF Recap: Offense stalls in 5-1 loss to Blue Jackets
The Sabres began to retreat to some bad habits, and their third forward pinching too low resulted in back-to-back goals on the rush for Seth Jones and Nick Foligno. On the first of those two plays, O'Reilly said it was a missed check on his behalf that led to Columbus having numbers going back the other way.
"I missed that [breakaway] and get a little frustrated and I make a mistake offensively too," O'Reilly said. "I missed my check on the forecheck and he beats me back up ice and they score a goal."
Matt Calvert scored to extend the Columbus lead to 4-0 prior to the end of the period, tipping a shot between the pads of Chad Johnson and going behind the goalie to tip the puck past the line.
Playing their second game in as many nights, the Sabres struggled to mount any sort of comeback in the third. They didn't get their first goal until Seth Griffith scored with 2:34 remaining, and even then Josh Anderson answered with a goal for the Blue Jackets.
"Once we got down, you could just feel we didn't have the gas," O'Reilly said. "We started fighting it, we tensed up, we just couldn't get anything going after that."
Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, was his usual self in a 34-save performance. He kept the Sabres at bay when they generated chances through the first two periods, but Housley felt his team didn't do itself any favors with its lack of a net-front presence.
Aside from that, the Sabres thought they had executed their game plan well up until the three-goal stretch at the end of the second. By the end of the first period, they held a 22-17 advantage in shot attempts.
The one goal they did allow in the first came from Oliver Bjorkstrand on the power play, with Johnson heavily screened. He made 33 saves on 38 shots.
"You can't fault chad on anything tonight," Housley said. "He played really strong, we just didn't protect him enough."
The loss snaps a streak of two consecutive wins for the Sabres, who are continuing to learn lessons the hard way so far in the young season. In Columbus, that lesson traced back to the O'Reilly breakaway and the way they responded.
"Good teams, they don't beat themselves and they don't crack," Housley said. "Even being down one, we were still playing well. We shouldn't have gotten away from our game plan. Because of it, we get a little cheat in our game and then it winds up in our net."
The game marked the Sabres debut for defenseman Zach Redmond, who stepped into the lineup in place of Taylor Fedun. It was also his first NHL game since Jan. 21, when he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Redmond made a turnover on the breakout that could have proven costly in the first period, but responded well from that point on and ended the night tied for the team lead with five shots.
"Sometimes it's just one of those nights, but that was an emphasis I wanted to put on myself," he said. "That's what we had success with [in Boston], we were just putting shots on net and going to the net hard so that was kind of my game plan personally."
Griffith gets his first
Griffith's goal in the third period may not have meant much in the scope of the game, but he admitted that seeing a shot find the back of the net could be a confidence booster personally. His last NHL goal had come on Dec. 29, 2014.
The play began with a turnover forced by Johan Larsson, who then positioned himself at the net-front to screen Bobrovsky while Griffith took his shot.
"It just gives our line confidence," he said. "I know we had some chances throughout the game. We didn't really do a good job of getting in front of Bobrovsky, but Lars did a good job of getting in front there."
Zemgus Girgensons returned to the Sabres lineup after missing the last three games with a lower-body injury, which he sustained while blocking a shot off his foot during a penalty kill in Vegas on Oct. 17.
Girgensons skated 14:37, manning the left wing on a line with Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo.
The Sabres return home for a matinee against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. It will be the second and final meeting between the two teams this season, with the Sabres having lost their initial matchup 3-2 on Oct. 12. Tickets for the game are still available.
Coverage on Saturday begins at 12:30 p.m. with GMC Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 1 p.m.