It's not often that this Buffalo Sabres team is willing to focus on the positives fresh off of a loss. But given the tenacious effort that the young team put forth in their 4-2 defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers on Tuesday night, they were able to make an exception.
After going down 3-0 in the second period when the Rangers scored twice in a span of 1:27, the Sabres came out and played with purpose on nearly every remaining shift. Sam Reinhart and Johan Larsson scored to make it a one-goal game before the second period came to a close.
While they never tied it, the images of their tenacity were what left an impression. Marcus Foligno won battles in the corner. Daniel Catenacci showed his speed on the fourth line. Jack Eichel quarterbacked his line to multiple scoring chances with his passing ability.
They came up short, yes. But their coach was proud of the effort.
"I thought, really, the fight in our club tonight was outstanding," Dan Bylsma said. "We brought it, brought it right throughout the lineup, and pushed hard on this group. You saw it a number of different ways from a lot of different people.
"I thought we gave this New York Ranger team – a real good team – everything they could handle."
Buffalo entered the game having allowed early goals in three of their last four, a fate the team hoped to avoid on Tuesday. But Derrick Brassard opened the scoring with New York on the power-play 7:30 into the contest, sneaking in behind the defense and catching a pass at the blue line for a breakaway.
The Sabres found themselves down three just 6:05 into the second period after Mats Zuccarello and Jesper Fast scored for New York. Zuccarello scored from the right-wing circle, taking advantage of an opening between Robin Lehner's pads as he guarded the near post.
"Knowing Zuccarello and knowing what he's going to do, I had him and then I had to respect the back-door play," Lehner said. "If there's an open guy in the back he's going to do it most of the time. He didn't this time."
Lehner was screened by New York's Chris Kreider on Fast's goal, but was pulled nonetheless after seeing just 14 shots.
"I didn’t want to go off," Lehner said. "It's [Bylsma's] decision and I don’t agree with it, but he's the boss."
The goaltender's reaction didn't surprise his coach.
"I would expect him to say that and to want to do that," Bylsma said. "I expect him to be upset about having to leave the game at that point in time."
Chad Johnson came in and shut the door with 11 saves the rest of the way, and the Sabres responded quickly. Reinhart struck first, the beneficiary of a feed from Eichel on an odd-man rush that was he was able to tip in at the doorstep of Rangers goalie Antti Raanta.
Just under six minutes later, it was Larsson who found the back of the net, one-timing a feed to the slot from Brian Gionta for his sixth goal of the season, three of which have come in his last three home games.
The Sabres outshot the Rangers an impressive 19-4 in the third period, but J.T. Miller was able to seal the victory for New York with an empty-net goal with exactly one minute remaining.
"It's something that's just natural, when there's a change guys can kind of take that as a wake-up call no matter which way it goes," Reinhart said. "We did a lot of good things, a lot to take out of it. They're one of the best teams in the League and give them credit for holding on, but if we play the whole game the way we did in the third period, we feel pretty confident for sure."
SLOW FIRST PERIOD? NOT SO FAST.
The Rangers led 1-0 and had outshot the Sabres 8-6 entering the first intermission, but Bylsma said that he was happy with the way his team came out to begin the game.
"I thought we played really well in that game, in the first period as well," he said. "We came out energized there, carried the play, I think we had six scoring chances there in the first period.
"I thought we lost our energy a little bit with the second and the third goal and there was a lull in the game for us. Then we probably played our hardest and most energized 32 minutes of hockey there for the remainder of the game and had every opportunity to come back and tie that one up."
With Ryan O'Reilly absent from the lineup, linemates Eichel and Reinhart have continually stepped up for the Sabres in recent games. Each matched their respective career-high point streaks on Tuesday, with Eichel's at four games (3+2) and Reinhart's at three (1+3).
ONE MORE IN MONTREAL
The Sabres will head back north of the border Thursday night for their fourth and final meeting of the season with the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. The Sabres are 2-1-0 against the Canadiens this season and have taken the last two matchups.
Coverage on Thursday begins at 7 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Sportsnet 360. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.