LOS ANGELES - Playing a desperate opponent in the midst of a playoff push, the Buffalo Sabres knew to expect a strong start from the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on Thursday night. Buffalo was able to weather that storm but, as alternate captain Josh Gorges said afterward, they waited too long to make a push of their own.
Jarome Iginla broke a scoreless tie 36 seconds into the third period, Adrian Kempe added another goal late and Jonathan Quick made 26 saves as the Sabres left Los Angeles with a 2-0 loss for the fourth time in their last four visits.
"We don't go out and deserve it," Sabres goalie Robin Lehner said. "You can't wait for them to score the first goal and then wake up. It's not how the game is played. They're a big, solid, good team; they're going to shut you down. We had a couple of shots, couple of chances, but they kept us a little to the outside. It's just frustrating to see because when we turn it on in the third, we play really good."
Video: BUF Recap: Sabres struggle in 2-0 loss vs. Kings
It's ironic that both goals allowed by the Sabres came in the third period, which was the one period all night in which they managed to outshoot the Kings. Los Angeles held a 15-2 edge after the first period and a 10-9 edge in the second.
The Sabres were kept in the game thanks to a third-straight standout performance from Lehner, who made 34 saves. On the offensive end, meanwhile, they struggled to generate true scoring chances; their best ones were pucks that rang the post off the sticks of Matt Moulson and Sam Reinhart.
Video: BUF@LAK: Lehner makes a great pad stop on Gaborik
"It wasn't the start we wanted," alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "They took it to us and we were just watching. We've got to find a way to simplify but possess the puck at the same time. We've got to play heavier below the goal line. I felt it was a grittier game, with just a lot of holds and the picks that they were doing, it was tough. It was tough to generate chances."
Iginla's goal came after he wrapped around behind the goal line and put the puck on net with one hand on his stick. The Sabres had three defenders - O'Reilly, Zach Bogosian and Cody Franson - looking toward Anze Kopitar, who scooped up the rebound while Iginla leaked out to the left. Kopitar made a crossing pass to set Iginla up with an open cage.
"I lost it for a split second and it just happened so quick," O'Reilly said. "I felt like every time they took a shot or something it somehow ended up on their tape. It's just another thing, a play behind the net out front and we don't have time to react."
Los Angeles got its second goal after Gorges was called for tripping Trevor Lewis in the neutral zone with 7:27 remaining in regulation, a play that looked more like a standard hip check than a trip. Kempe scored to extend the Kings' lead just after the ensuing penalty expired, as Gorges raced back to join the play in the Sabres' zone.
"It is what it is," Gorges said. "I try to step up on a guy, didn't stick anything out, tried to get a piece of him. They see what they see. We've got to live with what they call, there's nothing we can do."
The bad break effectively ended the comeback push by the Sabres, who had fought hard to try and beat Quick in the third period.
"I thought it was a game exactly like we thought it was going to be," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "It was going to be a hard-fought game, we thought it was going to be a battle for every inch of ice. We we're in that fight. I thought our guys were in that fight. Jack [Eichel] was clawing and scratching for every inch he could get in the second and third periods. It's just a sign of how tough it is against a playoff-caliber team."
The Sabres have 11 games remaining this season and sit 10 points out of the playoffs. Lehner and Bylsma both said afterward that it has to be a point of professional pride for the team to continue to improve and behave as if they were on the edge of the playoff race.
"This is a business," Lehner said. "You've got to come out and play otherwise you get replaced, simple. It doesn't matter whether we're in or out right now, everyone needs to be playing for their jobs. It's not a privilege to play in this League. You've got to earn it. We've all got to decide if we're going to help each other make a good last impression the last 11, 12 games, whatever's left.
"If you just pack it in, there's a lot of eyes, there's a lot of eyes looking, and people see. And it's pretty obvious. If we want to stay in this league, we better get our heads on straight."
Fasching strong in return
Hudson Fasching played his first NHL game since Oct. 30, when he left the ice in Winnipeg due to a groin injury. The rookie forward provided an instant reminder of his effectiveness when he battled Drew Doughty down low and drew a forecheck in the first period, and together with linemates Marcus Foligno and Evan Rodrigues provided one of Buffalo's most consistent lines in the offensive zone.
"I think, no question, as the game went along they were the line that's started in the second period getting us offensive-zone time and chances," Bylsma said. "It continued on in the third."
The Sabres conclude their California road trip on Friday night when they meet the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Anaheim won the first meeting between the two teams back in Buffalo on Feb. 7.
Coverage on Friday begins at 9:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 10 p.m.