TORONTO - Speaking Saturday morning outside the visiting dressing room in Scotiabank Arena, Buffalo Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said a consistent defensive effort would be the key for his team in the second game of a home-and-home set with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sabres, playing their fifth contest in seven days, responded with a complete defensive outing and grinded their way to a road point in a 2-1 overtime loss.
"I'm really proud of the guys," Krueger said. "This performance on the workload we've had, they sure showed up and played well. ... Really proud of the effort of the guys just digging in really deep and extremely disappointed with the final result."
Video: BUF Recap: Ristolainen scores in 2-1 OT loss
Rasmus Ristolainen scored Buffalo's lone goal at 6:58 of the third period to tie the score at 1-1. John Tavares tallied the winner for Toronto 1:45 into overtime.
"I think we played a pretty good three periods and maybe we should have earned the win but that didn't happen," Ristolainen said. "It's a little frustrating but we got a huge point on the road."
Though the Maple Leafs outshot the Sabres, 43-30, Krueger felt his team did a good job limiting the quality of their opponents' chances. High-danger shot attempts at even strength were 14-3 in the Sabres' favor, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
Carter Hutton was strong making initial saves throughout a 41-save outing. The players in front of him did a good job boxing out and eliminating second chances.
"That's what we're trying to do is take away time and space and make it a hard game," said defenseman Marco Scandella, who cleared a puck off the Buffalo goal line in the dying seconds of regulation. "I feel like it was hard game both ways."
The Sabres remained patient within the confines of their game plan even when the goals weren't coming. Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson both rung posts in the first two periods, while Frederik Andersen used his glove to rob a Connor Sheary one-timer in the second.
Sheary's shot - which would have tied the game at 1-1 - was reviewed by officials to see if the puck crossed the goal line in Andersen's glove. The call on the ice stood due to inconclusive evidence.
"I thought both goalies played very, very well," Krueger said. "We needed to take more opportunity on the chances we had. I thought even though shot clock doesn't show it, I thought we dominated in the chances here today five-on-five and took too long to get that first one.
"Again, I thought we scored one in the second. It wasn't counted, but we buried it in our minds and continued to work."
Video: POSTGAME: Rasmus Ristolainen
The Sabres conclude their busy week having taken six of an available 14 points (2-1-2). Krueger had said prior to the game that he felt they were beginning to find consistency in their defensive identity, a trend that continued Saturday.
The one area still in need of a momentum shift is the power play, which remained cold during a 0-for-2 night. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, scored their lone goal in regulation on a power play during the second period, a backhand off the stick of William Nylander.
"It definitely gets in your head a little bit but you can't dwell on it," alternate captain Marcus Johansson said. "You've just got to go out and execute it. We've got to work on it, we've got to stick with it. Like I said, we just put this group together. We've just got to figure it out together."
The Sabres get a day of rest Sunday. They then begin another busy stretch of four games in seven days, including a three-game swing through Western Canada.
They'll go into it with plenty to build on.
"We're really pleased with the way the team is settling into a pretty consistent game here that gives us a chance every night," Krueger said. "We've been involved in excellent games against some of the strongest teams in the National Hockey League.
"It's about having that mental strength now to take that into every game we play and just continue to build forward. But we feel to be in a good place, guys feel confident. We really showed it here in Toronto today coming off this back-to-back and being the better team down the stretch today."
The Sabres return home to host the New Jersey Devils on Monday. It will be Founders' Night at KeyBank Center, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the day Buffalo was awarded an NHL franchise.
Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7.