ST. LOUIS – The Buffalo Sabres hung with the National Hockey League’s best Thursday night and while they were unable to come away with a victory, there were a lot of things in the game they were proud of.
The St. Louis Blues defeated the Sabres 2-1 at Scottrade Center with a late third-period goal by Brendan Morrow proving to be the difference.
Rookie Nathan Lieuwen made 26 saves in his second straight start for Buffalo while Brian Elliott turned aside 24 shots for the Blues.
Cody Hodgson scored the Sabres lone goal, breaking the shutout with less than a minute to play in regulation.
“It’s tough to lose that way but considering all the stuff we’ve been through this year and other games we’ve played, this was one of our better games,” Hodgson said.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan liked the effort from his club, particularly how they’ve responded to all of the injuries that have hit the team over the past few weeks. They lost Marcus Foligno to a lower-body injury on his first shift of the game. It will likely end his season.
“That was a real gutsy performance and I’m really proud of the way the guys competed,” Nolan said.
St. Louis is battling for the President’s Trophy and another two points certainly helps their cause. The Sabres, on the other hand, are eliminated from the playoff picture but still have a lot to play for.
“Considering that’s the best team in the League right there, that’s a heck of an effort,” Lieuwen said. “I thought we were right there with them and we could’ve taken this game to overtime.”
Buffalo has put forth three consistent efforts as a response from an effort in Nashville that no one was happy with.
“The one thing our team is starting to do is we are to learn how to battle,” Nolan said. “Once we get going here, we’re going to be OK.”
Nolan was also pleased with how some of the younger players on the roster have responded to the bigger roles that they have had to fill. He was particularly happy with Hodgson, Tyler Ennis and Rasmus Ristolainen.
“You really like he young guys are starting to respond,” Nolan said. “It’s really good to see some of those young guys taking some leadership responsibility because that’s where it’s going.”
Offensive chances were pretty limited throughout the game. After two periods, the shot total favored St. Louis 16-13. The Sabres did, however, match the Blues’ physical tone for much of the game.
“They come at you. They play a physical-type game, too, not just big guys that are out there. They finish their checks and they come hard,” Hodgson said. “I thought we did a good job keeping pressure on them, trying to keep the puck in their end and making plays down there.
St. Louis took a 1-0 lead 1:59 into the second period when Maxime Lapierre capitalized in the slot from a corner feed by Ryan Reaves.
The Blues took a 2-0 lead with 1:52 to play when Brendan Morrow capitalized on a miscue behind the Buffalo net. Lieuwen went to play the puck, but with the forecheck coming, scrambled to get back into his crease. He made the initial save, but Morrow was able to put the puck home.
Lieuwen will look to improve his puck-handling skills.
“I tried to do my best to get back in the net, but I thought my puck play tonight was pretty poor. It’s definitely one thing in my game I need to work on but as far as stopping the puck was concerned, I felt really good tonight.”
With 55.1 seconds remaining in the game, Buffalo found the back of the net while on the power play. The Sabres called a timeout in order to set up a play with Lieuwen on the bench in favor of the extra attacker. In the 6-on-4 situation, Ennis wired a cross-ice pass to Hodgson who one-timed the puck past Elliott for his 18 th goal of the season.
Foligno landed awkwardly in front of the Blues net and had to be helped off the ice 1:58 into the contest. He did not return to the game.
Drew Stafford and Henrik Tallinder joined the Sabres injured list as well. Neither took the ice for the morning skate and both missed the game against St. Louis. They, along with Mike Weber, were considered game-time decisions but only Weber suited up.
Nolan hopes Stafford is ready to play in Detroit on Friday but said they’ll likely have to call someone up from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.
The Sabres are also without goaltenders Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth, defensemen Tyler Myers and Alexander Sulzer and forwards Chris Stewart, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. Stewart skated with the team for the first time Thursday morning, but is not yet ready to return.
“I actually thought we pulled together really well considering everything and Marcus going down. No one wants to see that,” Hodgson said. “We had a depleted lineup already but that looked really bad for Marcus and it was good for the team to band together and try to pull one out. I thought we played pretty well too pretty the whole game.”
With Stafford and Tallinder out, Hodgson and Ennis served along with Christian Ehrhoff as alternate captains.
Defenseman Jake McCabe, a second-round pick of the Sabres in the 2012 NHL Draft, made his NHL debut and logged 16:20 of ice time. He said he was able to settle in a bit as the game wore on, but missed his last few shifts due to cramping.
“Early on, I was definitely gripping the stick a little hard but throughout the game, I had more confidence in my plays and my skating ability and the battles,” he said. “It was exciting out there. And to be right there, we were right there all game.”
Buffalo continues its three-game road trip with a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday at Joe Louis Arena at 7:30 p.m.