DETROIT – Only after Luke Glendening found the back of an empty net for the Detroit Red Wings were the Buffalo Sabres finally able to make things interesting on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit had led for the entire night, and Glendening's goal extended that lead to 3-0 with three minutes left to play.
Only 10 seconds passed, however, before Zemgus Girgensons caught a pass from Brian Gionta and scored from the left circle. Another minute went by and Sam Reinhart scored into the wide-open net thanks to heads up feed by Casey Nelson.
After putting forth one of their most disappointing offensive outputs of the season through the first 57 minutes, the Sabres all of a sudden trailed by only one goal with 1:49 remaining. They came close to getting that goal, too, putting puck after puck to the net until they eventually ran out of time in a 3-2 loss.
"It fell to me twice, I know some other guys had opportunities too," Reinhart said of the team's last ditch effort to tie the game. "At this point you can't really look at the last 30 seconds when there's a lot more to look at in the first 55 minutes."
Up until those final minutes, the Sabres appeared certain to end up with fewer than 19 shots, which was their season-low entering Monday. They put six shots on net in the final three minutes to avoid that total and finished with 20.
"Our team didn’t give up, that was for darn sure," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I liked the way we threw it all out there at the end but it's a lot too little and a lot too late."
Buffalo was called for three penalties in the first period, and it eventually came back to bite them. Dylan Larkin opened the scoring for the Red Wings on the power play with 1:28 remaining in the period after Josh Gorges was called for interference.
The Sabres went without a shot on their own power play to begin the second, and Riley Sheahan added to the lead 9:05 into the period with a coast-to-coast goal that began with him circling behind the net in his own zone and ended with him sniping a shot to the upper far-side corner.
Sheahan skated between Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta on the entry and distanced himself from Rasmus Ristolainen, the last defender in his path, to take his shot from the left circle.
"I feel like we created their speed too much," Reinhart said. "We could've held on to the puck a little bit more, I feel like coming out of our end we kind of gave them too many transitions. They were able to capitalize on a couple of them and really dominated from that standpoint."
The Red Wings entered Monday tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for the second Wild Card in the Eastern Conference. Detroit's 24-year playoff streak, the longest active streak for any team in the four major North American sports, hinges on these last two weeks, and it showed in the Red Wings' play.
"I think the game was at another level speed wise and urgency wise from the Red Wings that we didn’t match, we didn’t have," Bylsma said. "I think, again a lot of that was the opportunities we gave them on the power play and I think that was a real big storyline in the game but it was also because they did bring that level early and forced us to deal with it."
The Sabres said it was the exact sort of effort they knew they'd need to match going in.
"Our mindset was to do everything we can to kind of ruin their parade a little bit," Reinhart said. "With that being said we still have a job to do this season, we still have teams we can catch and continue to get better. Unfortunately it took too long, but I think the preparation, mindset was good going in."
Chad Johnson made 26 saves in the loss for Buffalo.
KANE LEAVES EARLY
Evander Kane continued to play in the second period after sustaining an upper-body injury, but did not return in the third. His status is questionable for Buffalo's game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
"He played a handful of shifts with the injury, the upper-body injury, and just wasn’t able to continue on. Day-to-day right now, we'll get him evaluated a little bit more and I doubt we'll him in tomorrow's game but it's a little too early to tell at this point."
Ryan O'Reilly joined a line with rookie forwards Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart in Kane's absence.
ANOTHER POINT FOR NELSON
Playing in only his second NHL game, Nelson was on the ice for both of the Sabres' late goals on Monday and earned his second career assist on Reinhart's tally. Nelson faked a shot from the point and instead found Reinhart with a pass to the left circle.
"I think there was a lot of traffic," Reinhart said. "It was a nice, composed play back there, there's no question about it."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MR. HOCKEY
Gordie Howe, the Red Wings legend and all-time leading scorer, was in the building to celebrate his 88th birthday on Monday. Howe was introduced during the game as the crowd sang "Happy Birthday." Prior to the game, he met with a few of the Sabres, including Eichel.
The Sabres are right back in action with another road game on Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.