MONTREAL - Max Pacioretty scored a hat trick and Carey Price turned in a shutout-worthy performance for most of 60 minutes as Buffalo's best month of the season ended with a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Tuesday night, a game the Sabres trailed by a score of 5-0 until less than four minutes remained in regulation.
Yet for everything the Canadiens did well, the Sabres were far more inclined to talk about their own wrongdoings when they spoke afterward. Namely, they thought they played right into Montreal's strengths by turning over the puck.
"I don't know if it was their speed as much as our puck management," defenseman Cody Franson said. "We turned the puck over too much, any time they had an odd-man rush it was because of our mistake.
"Don't get me wrong they're a good team, they're where they are in the standings for a reason. Sometimes you've got to tip your cap but for us tonight, that was our own fault. We didn't manage the puck well enough, we put [goalie Robin Lehner] in a tough spot and put ourselves too far behind the eight ball."
Defensive-zone turnovers led to a three-goal second period for the Canadiens, who went into the dressing room for the second intermission with a comfortable 4-0 lead. The first came when a strong Montreal forecheck stripped the puck from Marcus Foligno behind the net, allowing Alexander Radulov to set up a Pacioretty goal for the second time in the game.
The next two turnovers both came on attempted breakout passes from Franson, the first of which came at the end of a long shift when his pass was intercepted along the boards toward the blue line and quickly turned into a goal for David Desharnais.
"It was a tough situation," Franson said. "Me and [partner Zach Bogosian] got caught out there, we were going to wheel it out, and then everybody changed. We tried to make the play to get it out and get it up the ice. Unfortunately I couldn't get the pass by the guy that was posted by the wall. I didn't want to throw it to the middle of the ice, I knew if it got turned over in the middle of the ice we were going to be in a bad situation having been out there that long."
Franson's breakout attempt later in the period bounced off the skate of Kyle Okposo and back into the offensive zone, forcing Okposo down to the ice in the process. The Canadiens had numbers in their favor with Okposo struggling to get back, and Paul Byron scored their fourth goal with 1:22 left in the period.
Franson and Bogosian were two of the heroes when the Sabres came away from Montreal with an overtime win 10 days ago, when they scored the tying and winning goals, respectively. On this night, Dan Bylsma was forced to break the pair up after they were on the ice for all three second-period goals, but he was sure to point out afterward that the team's problems extended beyond any two players.
"They weren't by themselves," Bylsma said. "We had several tape-to-tape passes to them that gave them opportunities and it wasn't just those two guys."
When the Sabres had their own chances - they actually outshot the Canadiens 39-35 - the All-Star Price turned them away at every corner. He caught a piece of Evander Kane's breakaway shot with his glove in the first period, stopped Ryan O'Reilly from in tight in the second and made a save on Matt Moulson from point-blank range in the third.
It wasn't until Dmitry Kulikov scored his first goal of the season with a shot from the point with 3:56 remaining that Buffalo finally made a dent, and Brian Gionta scored on the power play later to cap a comeback effort that was too little, too late.
Video: BUF@MTL: Kulikov blasts shot through traffic and in
"It wasn't as if it was 19 chances to zero," Bylsma said. "We had plenty of opportunities, but we played into their speed game. They played a fast game, we handed them the puck and they capitalized on a lot of the chances they had."
With the loss, the Sabres conclude January with a record of 7-5-1 and 15 points to show for it. It'll be a game they'll try to quickly put in the rearview mirror as they look to improve upon that record in February.
"It's one game," forward Jack Eichel said. "It's a tough one but what are you going to do about it now? We have practice tomorrow and play another game on Thursday so I think we put it behind us. We obviously know we didn't play well. We're not going to change that now, were not going to change the outcome now, so I think it'll be important for us to go back to the drawing board, forget about this one, put it behind us.
"We know the way we have to play as a team to be successful. We didn't do it tonight and that's why we got spanked."
The Sabres begin a two-game homestand when they host the New York Rangers at KeyBank Center on Thursday night. It will be the third and final matchup between the two teams, with Buffalo having taken the first two.
The game will be televised nationally on NBSCN, with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 p.m. You can also listen live on WGR 550.