When Corey Perry scored his second goal of the game to give the Anaheim Ducks a 4-1 lead over the Buffalo Sabres with 9:49 left to play at KeyBank Center on Thursday night, it was impossible not to think of Buffalo's comeback from the same deficit over San Jose on Tuesday. The timing, the score, the Pacific Division opponent - it all felt familiar.
But three-goal comebacks are a lot to ask for, even from a team that's seemed to make a habit of erasing deficits this season. The Sabres didn't respond to Perry's goal until Rasmus Ristolainen scored with 1:38 remaining, and Andrew Cogliano scored 42 seconds later into an empty net to cap a 5-2 win for the Ducks.
The two teams had entered the third period with one goal apiece, but the Ducks scored three straight goals to build their lead.
"Going to a third period 1-1, we've got to expect more out of ourselves going in this stage of the season," said Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, who made 39 saves. "That stage of the game, a 1-1 hockey game, we didn't have a push. They had a push."
The push began 55 seconds into the period thanks to Perry's playmaking skills on the rush, when he cut to the middle to draw the defense and then fed Rickard Rakell for his 22nd goal. He notched his own goal later in the period on the rush as well, this time burying a rebound off of a Rakell shot.
Perry had already scored Anaheim's first goal with 2.4 seconds remaining in the first period.
"I just think we turned too many pucks over against a good team with a lot of good forwards," said forward Jack Eichel, who scored on the power play in the second period. "We didn't contain their speed at all through the neutral zone and the puck ended up in the back of our net."
Sandwiched between Rakell and Perry's third-period scores was a tipped goal from Antoine Vermette on the power play, which came after Ryan O'Reilly received a double minor penalty for high-sticking Ryan Getzlaf on a faceoff.
The shots overall were 44-26 in favor of the Ducks, marking the ninth straight game that the Sabres have allowed 35 shots or more to their opponent.
"It's just about stacking the odds against you," Lehner said. "When we get it down a little bit and take away the middle and take away some quality chances, that tip, maybe it' not happening, that bounce. The more chances, the more opportunities for a bad bounce. We need to clog up the middle, I don't know. I'm sure coach is going to walk us through it but we've got to definitely step up."
"We've been playing against pretty good teams like tonight and a couple nights ago, but still we've got to help out our goalie more," Ristolainen added. "They've been huge for us. Somehow, we've got to play tighter, have better gaps. Maybe, I would say, more shot blocks too."
Eichel said he thought the Sabres were too loose when possessing the puck, and Dan Bylsma pointed to lopsided possession time as the cause for the lopsided shot totals.
"Tonight I think through two periods their defensemen had 14 or 15 attempts on net," the Sabres coach said. "That's an offensive zone indicator of having possession of the puck and having it in the offensive zone and going low to high and getting shots on the cage. That's been really a common denominator."
In their game on Tuesday, the Sabres were able to get away with allowing that kind of offense thanks to a memorable third-period run. Lehner's point on Thursday was that the team can't keep expecting to rely on such comebacks.
"Comeback victories, [they're a] great momentum boost or moral boost or whatever," the goalie said. "But comeback victories, they're called comebacks because we've put us in a hole. It's not all the time going to bounce that way."
A missed opportunity
Goalie John Gibson had been excellent in net for Anaheim in the first period, but an equipment issue caused to miss the opening minutes of the second. When he did return, Buffalo quickly found its way to the power play and Gibson was greeted by a quick goal from Eichel off the ensuing faceoff.
The goal, a one-time shot from the high slot, occurred less than two seconds into the power play and tied the game with 13:56 left to play in the period.
Video: ANA@BUF: Eichel fires one-timer off faceoff for PPG
Bylsma said he felt his team not only missed a chance to capitalize on backup Jonathan Bernier, who faced just two shots in 5:41 of relief, but also on the quick goal they'd gotten against Gibson.
"We didn't get a chance to get to Bernier," he said. "I felt the same way, we get one shot right of the hop, he lets it in and it's kind of an opportunity to take advantage of the situation, the goalie situation, and we didn't capitalize."
With his assist on Eichel's goal in the second period, Kyle Okposo extended his point streak to four games (2+2).
Ristolainen's goal, meanwhile, was his fourth of the season and his first since Dec. 20. While it didn't mean much to the outcome of the game, the defenseman said it did mean something to him.
Video: ANA@BUF: Ristolainen cuts in, nets backhander
"It felt pretty good. It's been a while," Ristolainen said. "Hopefully I can keep it going and get some more goals and try to help the team win.
The Sabres will head north to face the rival Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night. It will be the third of five meetings between the two teams this season, with Toronto having taken the first two contests.
Coverage on Saturday begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Maple Leafs at 7 p.m.