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Sabres unable to overcome 2nd-period slump in loss to Leafs

Eichel scores twice in 5-3 defeat

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

TORONTO - Jack Eichel scored a pair of goals to continue his strong production against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the Buffalo Sabres were unable to overcome a lopsided second period in a 5-3 loss at Scotiabank Arena on Monday. 

The Maple Leafs strung together four straight goals in the second period, including three in a span of 2:04, to erase a 1-0 deficit and take control of the contest. The Sabres nearly tied the game on a power play late in the third period, but Frederik Andersen robbed a one-time attempt by Rasmus Dahlin at the back door. 

"We had seven or eight minutes of bad hockey where we let them get behind us and that was it," Eichel said. "… They're a good transition team. We all know that. It's something we scouted before the game, so you have to take care of the puck and whenever they get the puck they're looking to go. 

"They had too many odd-man rushes in the second period and it cost us the game."

Video: BUF Recap: Eichel scores twice in 5-3 loss

The Sabres dominated the first period to the tune of a 16-6 shot advantage, punctuated by a power-play blast from the high slot by Eichel that opened the scoring with 51.5 seconds remaining. They expected the Maple Leafs to make a push in the second, but they were unable to weather the storm.

Video: BUF@TOR: Eichel opens scoring with a power-play goal

John Tavares sparked Toronto's rally with a high tip at 3:48 in the second. Auston Matthews buried an odd bounce off Evan Rodrigues at 5:24, and Frederik Gauthier buried a backhand shot from in front of the net at 5:52. 

The Sabres pulled Carter Hutton following Gauthier's goal, with the goalie having stopped nine of 12 shots. Tyler Ennis slipped behind the Sabres defense and beat Linus Ullmark on a breakaway for the Maple Leafs' fourth goal with 6:53 remaining in the period. 

"I think we've got to realize they're going to have pushes," Sam Reinhart said. "I mean, they've got some of the best players in the world over there. But we need to find a way to calm down and be more composed when they do have those pushes and try to stop the momentum as quick as possible."

Sabres coach Phil Housley said the decision to pull Hutton had more to do with the team's defensive play than it did the goaltender.

"I was thinking about taking a timeout, just getting a goalie change, trying to spark our team, maybe send a message," Housley said.

The Sabres were able to stage a near-comeback, beginning with a 5-on-3 goal from Reinhart with 2:35 remaining in the second period. Eichel buried a shot across the body of Andersen on a 2-on-1 rush to pull them within a goal just nine seconds into the third.

Video: BUF@TOR: Reinhart caps great passing with PPG

The push continued throughout the period, with Reinhart drawing a tripping call against Matthews with 4:07 remaining. The Sabres possessed the puck for the majority of the ensuing power play, up until Andersen made a scrambling stop on Dahlin's one-time attempt at the back door. 

Andersen covered the puck for a draw in the Toronto zone, after which the puck deflected off an official's skate and past a diving Dahlin at the blue line. Kasperi Kapanen scooped up the puck and scored on a shorthanded breakaway to extend Toronto's lead with 2:18 remaining. 

"It's a fluky thing," Housley said. "We had two or three quality looks. Give Andersen credit, he made some big saves. It's unfortunate, because they were tired, and it happens to hit the official's skate and go to those guys."

The Sabres will play the Maple Leafs again in Toronto on Saturday. The lesson on Monday was that two strong periods won't be enough. 

"I think we got a little soft in our coverage," Reinhart said. "You can't do that against a team like that. The majority of the game I thought we played really well, the way we wanted to. You can't give that team a six, seven, eight-minute span. They're going to capitalize."


Roaring 20

Video: BUF@TOR: Eichel rings home scorching second goal

Eichel's goals were his 20th and 21st of the season, joining Rick Martin and Thomas Vanek as the third player in Sabres history to record 20 goals or more in each of his first four seasons. 

The Sabres captain also continued his hot streak against the Maple Leafs, now with 15 points (10+5) in 11 career matchups with Buffalo's cross-border rival. 


Up next

Brandon Montour is expected to make his Sabres debut when the team plays in Philadelphia on Tuesday. The game will be nationally televised on NBCSN, with puck drop scheduled for just after 7 p.m. Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray will have the call on WGR 550.

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