With whiteout conditions making visibility sparse and travel difficult in parts of Western New York, fans who ventured out to KeyBank Center to watch the Buffalo Sabres host the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night deserved to be treated. Thanks to Jack Eichel, they were.
Eichel put forth a career performance, scoring the first hat trick of his young career and the first by a Sabre in Buffalo in more than six years to go along with an assist and a career-high 11 shots on goal. The performance livened the crowd and erased a two-goal deficit in the third period.
In the end, though, it wasn't enough. Jacob Slavin scored 2:15 into overtime, sealing a 5-4 win for the Hurricanes. The Sabres have now earned points in five of their last six games, but three of them have been overtime losses.
"It's not good enough to get a point," Eichel said. "It seems like it's been the reoccurring theme here of late. We've had good effort and put ourselves in games and (had) opportunities to win and we're coming out with overtime losses."
Video: BUF Recap: Eichel nets hat trick in 5-4 OT loss
It was a game that took several turns, with the two teams playing to a 1-1 tie through two periods prior to scoring a combined six goals during a stretch of 8:14 in the third. Eichel set up Jake McCabe, who had two assists to go along with his goal, to give the Sabres the lead early in the period, followed by a string of three straight goals for Carolina.
The Sabres trailed 4-2 at that point, when Eichel - already with a goal and an assist - took matters into his own hands. His second and third goals of the night came just 10 seconds apart, the former coming on a shot from the high slot and the second on a shot across the body of goalie Cam Ward.
Video: CAR@BUF: Eichel records his first career hat trick
Eichel was rewarded with a shower of hats from the KeyBank Center crowd, and from that point on he was cheered every time the puck touched his stick. It was the first home hat trick for a Sabre since Thomas Vanek completed the feat on April 5, 2011.
"He was just using his speed, especially through the neutral zone," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "Something must've been triggered, because he started shooting the puck, even coming down off a bad angle … Jack took matters into his own hands a little bit in the third and found a way to tie the game."
In a way, Eichel's performance was a microcosm of the team's game. He was held without a shot in Buffalo's 2-1 loss in Philadelphia on Thursday, a game in which the Sabres as a whole only generated 20. They made it a point of emphasis to change that against a Carolina team that entered the night ranked second in the NHL with an average of 35.2 shots per game.
Buffalo's goals were all a product of that shot mentality. Eichel scored his first goal down low after a shot from McCabe deflected off of a body in front of the net, while McCabe's goal was scored off the rebound of an Eichel shot. In total, the Sabres outshot the Hurricanes 41-34.
Video: CAR@BUF: McCabe finds twine on shot from the circle
"It's a point of emphasis every night," McCabe said. "Going into games you want to fire as much rubber at the goalie as possible and get bodies there. Tonight you saw us produce goals because off that so going forward that's something to build off of, for sure."
While the majority of what the Sabres did in the game was positive, they attributed the negative result to minor mistakes that added up over the course of the game. Justin Williams and Jordan Stall scored off of rebounds for Carolina, Derek Ryan scored off a tip and Elias Lindholm scored on a 3-on-2 rush.
McCabe said it was especially disappointing to not be able to earn the win for goalie Chad Johnson, who made 29 saves.
"There's not a ton of glaring mistakes in our game right now but the small ones add up," McCabe said. "We don't make a play on the wall or as defensemen we don't make a good breakout pass, then we're stuck in our zone. It might not happen that play, but a couple plays down the road and that's when those plays start adding up."
"I hand it to our guys to find the energy to come back and tie the game," Housley added. "I thought it was a great effort on their part because it easily could've gone in the other direction. For the most part we played a really, really good game.
"It's just those little details, and I continue to talk about it, our play without the puck. It's that urgency that something bad could happen, and it did."
Because of those mistakes, the Sabres needed more magic in overtime even after the memorable performance from Eichel. They nearly had it, too, with Evander Kane having had the chance to win the game on a breakaway attempt in the extra period. Kane's shot was stuffed by Ward's pad.
"It was a s----- attempt," Kane, who had three assists, said. "I should know better. The ice is not very good in overtime and I've got to fire the puck and put it away."
Even in spite of the result, the Sabres are continuing to trend in the right direction. They played like a confident team, which Housley said stemmed from the strong run that began with a win in Colorado last Tuesday.
Yet for as well as he played, and for as strong as the Sabres looked for stretches, Eichel's focus was less on the point they earned and more on the one that got away.
"There was a lot of good things, but at the end of the day, we only get one point," he said. "It stings a little bit."
The Sabres continue their three-game homestand against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night. The two teams have met once this season, a 5-4 overtime win for the Sabres in Boston on Oct. 21.
The game will be nationally televised on NBCSN, or you can listen live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.