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Comeback effort falls short in Toronto

Eichel extends point streak to 17 games in 5-3 loss

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

TORONTO - Jack Eichel extended his point streak to 17 games with a goal and an assist during a third-period push, but the Buffalo Sabres were ultimately unable to overcome an early deficit in a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday. 

Rasmus Dahlin and Kyle Okposo also scored goals during the third period, which began with the Sabres trailing 3-0. They went on a late power play with the chance to tie the game with but surrendered an empty-net goal to Ilya Mikheyev with 2:34 remaining. 

"I'm, just looking back now, disappointed that we didn't make more of a game of it early because you could see when we made the push and we got to our game, we found our legs, there was a real chance to take points here tonight," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said.

"That speaks for the character of the group. We can recover within a game, so that's something to build on, but also to look at is how we deal with what aren't really long breaks. We seem to have a little bit of trouble coming out of them."

Video: BUF Recap: Eichel extends point streak in loss

The Sabres were coming off a two-day break between games, a rarity for them in what's been a condensed first-half schedule. Though they practiced Monday, Krueger felt the longer-than-usual wait period affected their start to the game. 

The Maple Leafs outshot the Sabres, 11-5, in the first period and took the lead on a goal from Frederik Gauthier. Auston Matthews added a pair of goals in the second period, both times finding an open shot as a late man in on the rush. 

It was a departure from the game the Sabres played when they last visited Toronto, a 2-1 overtime loss on Nov. 30. They were able to suppress the Maple Leafs' five-man attack in that game, holding them without a goal at 5-on-5. 

"I felt we didn't really get the forecheck going," forward Victor Olofsson said. "I felt they came out really easy and we didn't get enough pucks deep on them. I feel like we could have probably stopped them a few times in our D-zone, too. We got running around a little bit too much. 

"… It's a really skilled team, obviously. I think that it really starts with the forecheck. If we can slow them down right away, then they're not going to be able to come with speed."

The Sabres opened the third period on a power play. Dahlin put them on the board with a shot from the point as Sam Reinhart cut across the net, screening goaltender Frederik Andersen. 

Video: BUF@TOR: Dahlin cranks slap shot for PPG

Dmytro Timashov answered for the Maple Leafs less than four minutes later, but the Sabres kept punching. Eichel added another moment to what's becoming a lengthy personal highlight reel just 58 seconds after Timahshov's goal. Okposo brought the Sabres within a goal with 4:39 remaining. 

"We were angry after two periods, as a group," Krueger said. "We were being constructive in the room on things we need to. Power play needed to ignite us and it did so we're happy to see the power play's back here over the last few games.

"... Letting them get the fourth goal was pretty disappointing at that time but, again, they recovered, they came back, the guys, and fought hard and made a game of it. But that's not good enough right now."

The loss snapped a five-game point streak for the Sabres, who were 3-0-2 in that span. 

 

Eichel extends point streak

Eichel's 17-game streak is tied as the second-longest in franchise history with Hall of Famer Dave Andreychuk, who reached the mark twice. He's one game shy of matching the franchise record set by Gilbert Perreault during the 1971-72 season. 

The Sabres captain put his shot on display for his 23rd goal of the season, which ranks second in the NHL to Boston's David Pastrnak. Eichel skated into a pass off the boards from Olofsson, carried the puck into the faceoff circle and picked the far-side corner.

Video: BUF@TOR: Eichel wires wrister past Andersen

Eichel also now has four multi-point outings in a row, making him the first Sabres player to accomplish the feat since Andrej Sekera did it in five straight games in 2011.  

"He's obviously doing pretty amazing things right now," Okposo said. "He's really come into his own and becoming a superstar. He's done some special things."

 

Okposo's strong stretch

Okposo has three goals in six games since returning from a concussion on Dec. 7. Though he's played a key role on a line with Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson all season, he had only scored one goal in his first 19 contests predating the injury.

"I think Kyle is underrated a little bit in what he does for us," Krueger said. "His habits are strong, he's a competitive player and his puck decisions have been outstanding since his return from his head injury. 

"We actually feel that he's taken it to another level, which is good for us to see. He really willed that goal in. The competitor in there helps our younger players really, day in and day out. His work ethic, as you all now, is second to none in practice, off ice and everywhere else."

With the bench shortened in search of a comeback, Okposo was skating on a makeshift line with Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues at the time of his goal. As Sheary and Rodrigues crashed the Toronto net, Okposo pounced on a loose puck out in front. 

Video: BUF@TOR: Okposo sweeps up the rebound in front

"Tonight, honestly, I didn't feel very good," Okposo admitted afterward. "I felt a little flat, just tried to grind it out. Just mentally give as much as I could. I had some good shifts and had a few chances, I was able to capitalize there. But I've felt good since I've been back."

 

Up next

The Sabres conclude their road trip in Philadelphia on Thursday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7. 

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