MONTREAL - Facing a raucous road atmosphere and an opponent fighting for a spot in the playoffs, the Sabres emphasized the importance of starting strong against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday night. They led 1-0 after the first period on the strength of a Sam Reinhart goal.
In the second period, they got away from what made them successful. Costly mistakes mounted into a 7-4 loss, officially eliminating the team from playoff contention.
"I thought we had a good first period," captain Jack Eichel said. "Second period, I thought maybe we got a little bit away from our game and I thought they were able to extend shifts in our end and we probably turned over too many pucks and that led to some of their goals.
"It's been a long process here, it's been a long year. These same issues seem to continue to haunt us, so we've got to be better here for these next couple games. There's a lot of pride on the line, there's a lot to play for. We represent our city, we represent each other, this organization. That should be enough right there. We've got to play for each other more."
Video: BUF Recap: Balanced offense not enough in 7-4 loss
In addition to Reinhart, Alexander Nylander, Marco Scandella and Eichel all scored goals for the Sabres. Carter Hutton made 37 saves on 43 shots, his second straight workload of 40-plus shots.
The Sabres were outshot 20-7 during a second period in which the two teams combined for six goals. The Canadiens scored three in a row - from Artturi Lehkonen, Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw - to take a 3-1 lead.
The Sabres tied the game with goals from Nylander and Scandella that were scored 1:15 apart, but Paul Byron capitalized on a turnover by Reinhart at the offensive blue line to put the Canadiens back ahead with 1:57 remaining. Gallagher scored his second goal to add to the lead with 11:25 left in the third.
"In the second period we're trying to do too much ourselves, too much one-on-one hockey," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "… We come and tie it up, we show some jam, we have the puck on our stick and we just can't make these critical mistakes."
Lehkonen put the Canadiens on the board after Jordie Benn kept prevented a clearing attempt by Casey Nelson from leaving the Sabres' zone. Max Domi collected the puck up high, spun as he approached the net and dished a backhand pass down low to Shaw, who passed across the net to set up Lehkonen.
Their next three goals came in similar fashion. Phillip Danault stole the puck down low and sent a diving pass to the front of the net to set up Gallagher's first goal. Shaw scored on an odd-man rush.
"This is the thing we continue to talk to our players about, is our checking detail," Housley said. "We're going to continue to talk about it because it's so important. When we don't have the puck, you can see, we have to have a bigger commitment without it.
"You're playing against good teams that are fighting for their playoff lives, they have a good transitional game and it ends up in our net, so we've got to continue that message."
Eichel brought the Sabres back within one when he cleaned up a loose puck for his career-high 26th goal of the season. The goal came seconds after the expiration of a four-minute power play, making it 5-4 with 6:47 remaining.
Once again, the Canadiens responded. Max Domi buried a wrist shot on the power play 3:17 later and Tomas Tatar capped the scoring with an empty-net goal.
Reinhart admitted to feeling the frustration of another season without playoffs, but echoed Eichel in saying that pride will be on the line over the final eight games.
"It's not an easy situation to be in," Reinhart said. "When you go through a couple years of it and they start adding up, it just adds to the frustration. When we do have a little bit of success at the start of the year, it makes it that much more difficult to lose, really. We've got to find a way to stick together and start playing for one another down the stretch here."
Nylander's power-play goal extended his career-best point streak to three games, with two goals and two assists in that span. Once again, it was the sort of goal one would expect from a guy with "snipe show" in his Twitter handle:
Video: BUF@MTL: Nylander hammers Dahlin's pass on power play
Nylander spent the game skating on a line with Eichel and Conor Sheary, which meant recurring matchups with Montreal's top line of Danault, Gallagher and Tatar as well as its top defense pair in Victor Mete and Shea Weber. He skated 14:32 and tallied three shot attempts.
"I thought Alex played a heck of a game tonight," Housley said. "Not because he scored, I thought he was skating well, he was getting down in deep in the corners, controlling the puck, hanging onto pucks. He got a couple looks. It was a heck of a shot on the power play."
Reinhart's first-period goal was his 200th NHL point, as well as his fourth in four games against the Canadiens this season.
The goal was the product of a give-and-go between Reinhart and Casey Mittelstadt that began with the former along the right half wall, where he found Mittelstadt in the corner and proceeded to drive to the net. Mittelstadt delivered a return pass to Reinhart in the slot, where he went five-hole on Carey Price.
Video: BUF@MTL: Reinhart buries nice pass for opening tally
The goal was Reinhart's 60th point of the season, his first time reaching that mark.
"I think that was our first period," Reinhart said. "We kept things simple through the neutral zone, we were able to get on pucks in deep and get our forecheck going and then get our cycle play going. That summed up our first, as well as Hutts making a couple big saves. We got away from that."
Brandon Montour earned a secondary assist on the goal, his seventh point in 12 games with the Sabres. He gained the offensive zone with a dynamic end-to-end drive, weaving his way through defenders as he drove low toward the net.
The road trip continues in New Jersey on Monday. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 6:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.