NEWARK, N.J. - Evan Rodrigues fought for positioning in front of the net with defenseman Andy Greene while Jeff Skinner shot from above the left faceoff circle, creating a rebound that bounced toward Sam Reinhart as he stared down an open cage.
Reinhart collected the puck and buried it behind New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider. It would have been his second goal of the night and tied the game at two goals apiece with 6:24 remaining in the contest, if not for a challenge for goalie interference.
Instead, the call on the ice was overturned and the play went down as a crucial moment in a 3-1 Sabres loss at Prudential Center on Monday.
"I totally disagree with the call," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "I think [Rodrigues has] got his territory in front of the goaltender. We're telling our guys to go to the front of the net. He does the right thing, backs into him. They saw it differently, but I disagree with it."
Video: Condensed Game: Sabres @ Devils
The overturned goal was a microcosm of what was a frustrating contest for the Sabres, one in which they seemed to do everything right except outscore their opponent. They outshot the Devils, 46-21, but their lone goal came on a shot by Reinhart from center ice in the first period.
The Sabres made it a point to get to the front of the net and make life difficult for Schneider, particularly on the shift that led to Reinhart's would-be goal. Schneider stopped two Rasmus Ristolainen shots through heavy traffic before Reinhart was finally able to grab ahold of Skinner's rebound.
"I thought we were there quite a bit today," Rodrigues said. "I thought we put a focus on it, I thought we did a pretty good job of it. We just needed another bounce, that's all."
Officials ruled that Rodrigues made enough contact with Schneider to impede the goaltender from stopping Reinhart's shot. Rodrigues said he hadn't seen a detailed replay when he spoke to the media afterward, but felt that Greene might have made enough contact to force him into Schneider as they jostled for positioning.
"I was there for five, 10 seconds and I thought I was outside the crease," he said. "Their guy kind of comes, makes a little bit of contact with me. I don't think I purposefully went backwards into it, but there was some contact there. They made the call."
New Jersey led 2-1 at that point thanks to power-play goals from Blake Coleman and Pavel Zacha. Coleman opened the scoring 1:55 into the contest, cutting toward the net and beating Linus Ullmark from in tight.
The Sabres tied the game on Reinhart's goal later in the first period, then dominated the second to the tune of a 14-5 shot advantage. Yet it was the Devils who broke the 1-1 tie when Zacha took a shot from the outer edge of the left faceoff circle that went in off the post with 15:30 remaining.
New Jersey capped the scoring with an empty-net goal from Miles Wood with 1:25 left to play. Ullmark complemented the play in front of him after a 19-save performance, saying he saw strides from Buffalo's last two losses to Toronto and Montreal.
"I mean, we outshot them, out-chanced them, did a great job in our D-zone," Ullmark said. "They didn't get a lot of grade-A scoring chances, no rushes against. This is just how we're supposed to play, keep it tight and then capitalize on our chances."
While the Sabres are eliminated from playoff contention, frustration was evident in the dressing room afterward. Players remain focused on re-establishing a level of play they can take pride in entering the offseason.
This was the sort of effort they had in mind, apart from the outcome.
"If we play like that and start getting more results, it's not going to do anything from a standings standpoint," Reinhart said. "Internally in the room, it's going to lead to next year. That's where we're at, and that's where our focus is at for the next seven [games]."
Reinhart was at the end of his shift when Rasmus Dahlin forced a turnover in the neutral zone in the first period, and thus tried to bounce a puck toward Schneider before he made his way to the bench. He shot from the edge of the Devils logo at center ice and watched as the puck took an odd-bounce past Schneider.
Video: BUF@NJD: Reinhart beats Schneider from center ice
"I'm trying to throw the bouncer at the end of the shift, trying to get it off," he said. "I got a lucky bounce."
The goal was Reinhart's 20th of the campaign, the third time he's reached the mark in four seasons. Eighteen of those goals have come at even strength, a career high.
Lawrence Pilut stepped back into the lineup in place of Zach Bogosian, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. The rookie defenseman skated 20:42 and tallied three shots on the top pair with Ristolainen.
"I thought he played terrific," Housley said. "Really good poise with the puck, good first pass out of the zone, joining the rush, trying to do what he can to make a difference."
Dahlin earned the lone assist on Reinhart's goal, extending his point streak to four games (0+4). His 41 points are tied for 21st among NHL defensemen and tied for second among rookies.
The Sabres conclude their road trip in Ottawa on Tuesday. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 7 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7:30.