Carter Hutton couldn't help but admit his frustration, having just taken a loss for a game in which he might have been the best player on the ice.
Hutton stopped all but three shots in a 42-save performance, but the Sabres were unable to make up for a lack of offensive zone time in a 4-2 loss at KeyBank Center on Wednesday. The Sabres were outshot 46-24 and allowed a combined 38 shots in the first two periods.
"I wish I could put it into words," Hutton said afterward. "It's obviously frustrating. A lot of us wear it on our sleeve here. We put so much into this. I put my heart and soul out there. It's frustrating, you want to win.
"You want to contend and help this team get in the playoffs, and obviously right now we're not doing that. So, it's frustrating."
Video: BUF Recap: Hutton's performance not enough in loss
Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander scored goals for the Sabres, who only trailed by one until Zach Hyman sent a backhand shot into an empty net with 32.9 seconds remaining. They had their goaltender to thank for keeping them in the game to that point.
"Carter Hutton bailed us out first and second period," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We knew the magnitude of this game, the rivalry. We didn't execute early. We couldn't make a wall play. We didn't move our feet when we had the puck.
"We turned the puck over, and then it came right back after us and we were chasing - chasing a lot, killing a cycle. Then when we did have the puck, we didn't manage it very well. They have a very good rush team, transition. Their better players were really good tonight."
Hutton made his first grade-A save less than five minutes into the game, when Auston Matthews sped behind the net and passed through the crease to Kasperi Kapanen at the back door. The goalie continued to battle from that point on, forming a highlight reel that included multiple one-time stops on Matthews and a power-play opportunity from in tight for John Tavares.
Video: TOR@BUF: Hutton extends pad to shut down Kapanen
Mittelstadt scored a power-play goal to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead with 4:56 remaining in the second period, at which point they were being outshot 18-6. Eventually, the Maple Leafs were able to generate chances that Hutton couldn't possibly prevent from finding the back of the net.
Matthews and Tavares bookended the second period with goals to give Toronto a 2-1 lead it wouldn't relinquish. Matthews directed a pass from Andrea Johnsson in off his skate from within the blue paint 1:43 into the period. Tavares cleaned up a William Nylander rebound that took two bounces, first off the post and then off Jack Eichel's skate, with 1:28 remaining.
Mitch Marner made it 3-1 just 22 seconds into the third period when his shot from the slot deflected off Hutton's pad and into the net off Rasmus Ristolainen's skate, another odd bounce that might have been inevitable given Toronto's volume of shots.
"They generate those kind of chances, I don't really think it's luck," Hutton said. "You let a team get that many chances, they're going to put pucks in the back of the net."
The Sabres played their best hockey in the third period, taking nine shots against Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks and pulling within a goal on Nylander's one-time marker at 5:37.
Ultimately, the changes they made in that period came too late.
"We made a decision," Housley said. "We came back, supported the puck off the breakout. We managed the puck in the zone. We got it behind them. We established the forecheck. That was the plan coming in.
"When you don't do it for two periods, (it's) going to catch up. It could've been a lot worse if it wasn't for Carter Hutton."
The kids are alright
Aside from Hutton, the offensive contributions from a pair of young forwards in Mittelstadt and Nylander were silver linings for the Sabres. Mittelstadt tallied his 11th goal of the season after Rasmus Dahlin took a shot from the point that sailed past his stick and off the end boards, bouncing back across the goal line.
Mittelstadt collected the carom and buried a bad-angle shot from the side of the net.
Video: TOR@BUF: Mittelstadt nets own rebound for PPG
"Ras kind of faked me, I tried to tip it," he said. "It looked like the goalie wasn't back, so I just tried to throw it off his pad. I guess sometimes you get lucky throwing it at the net."
Nylander showcased his lethal shot on his first goal of the season, making the most of a one-time opportunity from the high slot:
Video: TOR@BUF: Nylander rips one-timer off the pipe
"If I would've held it another second or something like that, someone would've been on me," he said.
Nylander tallied two assists in a win over St. Louis on Sunday, giving him points in two straight games for the first time in his NHL career.
"I liked his game in the third period," Housley said. "I thought in the first period he didn't have that composure, that poise with the puck. He turned it over. But he found his game in the third period."
Dahlin passes Orr
Dahlin's assist on Mittelstadt's goal was his 39th point (8+31) of the season, passing Bobby Orr for second-most points by an 18-year-old defenseman in NHL history. Housley holds the record with 57 points in 1982-83.
Dahlin ranks third amongst rookies in points, behind forwards Elias Pettersson (61) and Andreas Johnsson (40).
The Sabres begin a three-game road trip in Montreal on Saturday. 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.