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Strong effort falls short in SO loss to Golden Knights

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

It took 67 games for the Buffalo Sabres to get a second attempt at a shootout after losing the skills competition at KeyBank Center on opening night. That chance came in Ottawa on Thursday night, and the Sabres seized the opportunity to come away with a win. 

The wait for a third shootout was much shorter. The Sabres played past overtime for the second game in a row against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, and while it featured some of the same ingredients as their win in Ottawa - a goal from Jacob Josefson and some big saves by Robin Lehner - the result this time was a 2-1 loss. 

Each team took five attempts in the shootout. Josefson scored the lone goal for Buffalo, mimicking the top-shelf wrister that won the game in Ottawa and improving to 13-for-24 in his career. David Perron and Erik Haula scored for Vegas. 

"I think the guys played a hell of a hockey game today," Lehner said. "I think we played well against one of the better teams. I think they played well too. It's a 1-1 game, we lost in a shootout. That's the unfortunate part, but there was a lot of good things in today's game."

Video: VGK@BUF: Lehner stops Bellemare, Tuch in succession

Justin Bailey scored Buffalo's lone goal, breaking a scoreless tie 2:47 into the third period. 

Vegas tied the game with 4:14 remaining in regulation on a wrap-around goal from defenseman Derek Engelland. Lehner came out aggressively to challenge Engelland, who was cutting toward the net alone, but was unable to connect on a poke check as the defenseman skated below the goal line. 

Engelland wrapped behind the net and banked the puck in off Marco Scandella, who was lying across the goal line.

"They had a pretty clear look on the back side and I was aggressive, tried to take that away, tried to stick with him," Lehner said. "Scandy helped me out on the other side. Just a lucky bounce."

Phil Housley was pleased for the most part with the effort his team put forth despite an injury-laden roster against one of the top teams in the NHL. The Sabres were playing without two of their three leading scorers in Jack Eichel (ankle) and Kyle Okposo (concussion), and the lineup featured five players who had been recalled since January.

What disappointed Housley was that, after limiting the second-highest scoring team in the NHL for so much of the game, the Sabres allowed the golden opportunity for Engelland to tie it late. 

"I hope they weren't happy," Housley said. "Obviously you look at our lineup versus their lineup, I think our guys are doing a terrific job, guys that are stepping in. You look at Justin Bailey tonight, contributing. But we had an opportunity to close that game out with four and a half minutes to go.

"Those are areas we have to learn as we move forward, that it's a simple battle and we can't lose inside position."

Bailey was the latest recall to join the Sabres, having received the call to replace Okposo on Friday. His third professional season has been up and down to this point; specifically, an ankle injury limited his production and kept him out of the NHL since October. 

Housley had been impressed with Bailey's play during his first stint with the team, though, and asked him to play the same way on Saturday. Bailey said he wanted to focus on utilizing his speed and size and let his skill take care of the rest, which is exactly what happened on his go-ahead goal in the third period.

Benoit Pouliot began the play by cutting off a pass between two Vegas defenders in the Buffalo zone, and then won a race down the ice to retrieve the puck in the opposite corner. He tapped a quick pass to find a wide-open Bailey, who pulled the puck to his backhand and tucked it in behind Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. 

Video: VGK@BUF: Bailey nets Pouliot's pass for pretty goal

"It was a great play by Benny there," Bailey said. "He worked hard to go get the puck, made a great pass and I just did my best to finish it."

Bailey finished the game with two shots in 8:49. Housley said he was pleased with what he saw and would have liked to have gotten him more ice time. 

"I think I played physical, I played with speed," Bailey said. "It's definitely an adjustment coming up here, but I think those two things are things I can control, my speed and my size. I just tried to come out here and use both of those."

The Sabres will need to rely on similar contributions going forward, with five games remaining on their season-long homestand six-game homestand. While a shootout loss to one of the league's better teams isn't what they had hoped for to kick it off, it's certainly a performance to build on.

"That's a really good hockey team and I thought we really didn't crack at any time," Housley said. "We played a pretty strong checking game. There wasn't much going on. That's what it's going to be like down the stretch against really good teams. We didn't give a lot of time and space. We can build off it."


Up next

The Sabres continue the long homestand against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday. It will be the second matchup of the season between the division rivals, with the Sabres having won the first matchup, 5-3, in Buffalo on March 5. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m. or you can listen live on WGR 550, with puck drop set for 7. 

The homestand then continues Saturday with a matinee against Buffalo native Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks. Kids Day ticket packages are available hereFans in attendance will receive a Sabres St. Patrick's Day koozie.

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