GLENDALE, Ariz. - Coming off a regulation loss Saturday night to the Colorado Avalanche (the team with the fewest points in the NHL), the Buffalo Sabres knew they needed to have a better showing on Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes (the team with the second-fewest points in the NHL).
For about 50 minutes, they were able to do just that. But the Coyotes stormed back in the third period, scoring three times - including Radim Vrbata's winner with 18.9 seconds left - to beat Buffalo 3-2 at Gila River Arena. It's the first time Buffalo failed to earn a point when leading after two periods (they're now 15-1-4 in that regard).
Video: BUF Recap: Sabres lose on Coyotes' 3rd period rally
"We stopped playing the way we had success early. We knew they were going to push and we tried to protect a lead. We can't play that way," alternate captain Josh Gorges said. "Every time you sit back you give the other team space, life. That's what happens.
"We've been in enough of these situations having the lead, having to know we have to push for it, be aggressive, play with the puck more in the offensive zone, keep pucks down there, keep them 200 feet from our goal. They're going to get chances. They're going to make plays but we stopped playing."
Jack Eichel posted a goal and an assist in the loss as Buffalo sits with 62 points through 62 games and still chasing a playoff berth.
"We just didn't do enough to win the game. It's frustrating. These are the ones that we need to have and we're just slowly pissing our chances away," Eichel said. "It's frustrating for all of us. I don't know what it is, but we sit back, let them take the puck to us. We don't push for that next one. We're not forcing turnovers. We're not getting in a forecheck.
"It seems like everyone just skates backwards. Every single guy is at fault here. As a group, we've been losing. We didn't do enough to win the game tonight."
Evan Rodrigues also scored for Buffalo and Anders Nilsson, in his first start since Feb. 7, made 26 saves in a very good performance.
Buffalo, however, comes out of their bye week with zero points on this two-game road trip.
"Regardless of the opponents, it can't happen," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "And we just got the feel tonight where you have the two points in your back pocket and you let them slip away."
The scoring plays
The Sabres opened the scoring with 1:59 left in the first period when Eichel skated from his own end into the Coyotes zone and ripped a wrist shot top corner from just inside the faceoff circle past Louis Domingue.
For Eichel, it was his first goal in seven games, but it's not like he hasn't been productive in that stretch. With the goal, he extended his point streak to six games (1+6). He now has 21 points (6+15) in his last 20 games, including six multi-point outings.
However, the Sabres are now 10-1-0 this season (and 19-4-0 in his career) when he has at least two points.
Buffalo's second goal came as a result of another rush led by Eichel. Coming out of the penalty box, Eichel busted in over the line with Ryan O'Reilly, and with Jake McCabe and Rodrigues trailing close behind as the Sabres pressed the Coyotes defenders. Eichel passed it over to McCabe and then McCabe moved it laterally to Rodrigues who scored his second of the season - and his second in two games.
Max Domi scored 6:42 into the third to make it a one-goal game after capitalizing on a turnover in the Sabres zone. And then with 6:19 remaining, Jamie McGinn put one in to tie it.
The Sabres had some chances to score a third goal, including one by Brian Gionta with just under two minutes to play, but Domingue kept the Coyotes in it, finishing with 31 saves.
Vrbata's slapper from the left point through traffic in the final minute then gave Arizona its first lead of the night.
Buffalo is now 10-2-1 in its last 13 games against Arizona, including a 5-1-1 record since the beginning of the 2013-14 season.
The Sabres had won their last six games in Arizona, with the last loss before tonight taking place on Jan. 21, 2008. It was the longest road winning streak the Sabres had against the Coyotes/Jets franchise. Buffalo is 9-5-0 in 14 road games against the Coyotes since they relocated from Winnipeg prior to the 1996-97 season.
With 20 games remaining in the season, the Sabres will look to get back on the right track when they return home for a game on Tuesday against the Nashville Predators.
"Like we said about any situation from here on out, you finish the game, you think about it, you talk about it and then it's got to be put in the past and we've got to get ready for our next one," Gorges said. "We can't sit here and cry over spilt milk and feel sorry for ourselves and think by any means that this season is over. There's still a lot of hockey left to be played. We know we're going to have to make up some ground. We're going to have to make up these last two games. But we can't stop now."
That will be Buffalo's final game before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1.
"It's a desperation point in the season for us and every one of these games is the biggest game of the year for us," Bylsma said. "It's disappointing to come out on the wrong end of this one."