Sam Reinhart admitted the sting of a hard-fought loss, then proceeded to contemplate the big picture.
The first matchup of the season between the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs, which found the two teams separated by just a point near the top of the Atlantic Division standings, lived up to its billing. There were three lead changes and a tempo that was as back-and-forth as the chants in the KeyBank Center stands.
On this night, the final lead change went in favor of Toronto. Auston Matthews banked his second goal of the game in off the crossbar with 2.7 seconds remaining in regulation, clinching a 4-3 win for the Maple Leafs.
"It's not easy right now, for sure," Reinhart said. "It's pretty disappointing. I mean, we have a couple days to kind of take a step back and really look at what we've done and what we've accomplished in this amount of time."
Jack Eichel scored a pair of third-period goals for Buffalo, the first of which tied the game and the second of which put them ahead, 3-2. Patrick Marleau scored for Toronto with 5:13 remaining in regulation to even the score and send the game into overtime.
Linus Ullmark made 26 saves for the Sabres, while Frederik Andersen stopped 38 for the Maple Leafs.
The Sabres have a chance to collect themselves after a grueling stretch that saw them play the NHL's top three teams in a six-day span. They lost a 5-4 thriller in Tampa on Thursday, fell 2-1 in Nashville on Monday and then traveled home to host Toronto on less than 24 hours rest.
You wouldn't know it by their start. The Sabres came out and dominated for much of the scoreless first period, outshooting the Maple Leafs 14-7. They kept their foot on the pedal when Matthews opened the scoring in the second, responding with a Reinhart goal later in the period.
Jake Gardiner tallied a second Toronto goal with 9.6 seconds to go until the second intermission, but the same no-quit Sabres came out to start the third. Eichel buried a shot-pass from Rasmus Ristolainen, who had two assists, to tie the game 2:39 into the period and later capitalized on a turnover in the Toronto zone to give Buffalo its late lead.
Video: TOR@BUF: Eichel finishes great feed from Ristolainen
Ullmark made his share of big-time saves, including a breakaway stop on John Tavares in the third. He was the victim of a few bad bounces, too, including a rebound that went up in the air and behind the net on Matthews' first and a hard carom off the end boards on Marleau's game-tying goal.
"I kind of lost it both times," he said. "Just a lot of traffic. They do a good job of having lots of bodies in there. We're trying to box them out. It's a game of inches."
Video: TOR@BUF: Ullmark snags Tavares' shorthanded chance
The final shot tally was 41-30 in favor of Buffalo.
"We were ready to play tonight," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We haven't had a start like that in our last three games. But I give credit to the guys because of the schedule and the travel and losing an hour and having to turn around against a really good hockey team, yet I thought it was a back-and-forth game.
"Obviously, we came back. Being down twice and finding a lead, it's just a credit to our guys. I wish they would've gotten rewarded for their hard work tonight, because they played terrific. It was great atmosphere. A lot of young guys on our team got some valuable experience, how fast the game can be."
The Sabres' schedule eases up a bit now, with three days separating them from the second game of their four-game homestand against Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. They're 10-2-2 in their last 14 games and haven't lost by more than one goal in a month, but their sights will still be set on rebounding from a disappointing outcome.
"We've got to find a way to get back on the winning side of things," Reinhart said. "That starts Saturday."
Reinhart extends his streak
Reinhart now has points in five straight games and goals in four straight, the latter of which is a career-best mark. He has 18 points (7+11) in his last 16 games, including seven multi-point efforts.
Stop us if you've heard this one before: Reinhart's goal was the product of his presence at the net-front, allowing him to tip a shot from the point by Nathan Beaulieu while linemate Jeff Skinner helped out with a heavy screen in front of Andersen.
Video: TOR@BUF: Reinhart nets goal on redirection
In the third period, Reinhart stole the puck from Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri in the Toronto zone and found Eichel, who cut to the slot to bury his second goal of the game.
Video: TOR@BUF: Eichel snaps one home from the slot
"I think he's just playing his game," Housley said of Reinhart. "He's making plays down low and in tight. He's finding ways to get pucks to the net, he goes to the net hard. That's where he scores most of his goals."
Ristolainen's big night
Ristolainen looked like a man possessed at times on Tuesday, dazzling with a pair of drives to the net in the first period and later dishing a pair of assists for his 16th and 17th points of the season. Picture the celly had he scored on this:
The defenseman finished the night with six shot attempts, three hits and three blocked shots in 27:00.
"You can argue he was one of the best players on the ice tonight," Eichel said. "We were down to five D there and I thought all our D stepped up and played big minutes, played in big situations. But yeah, I mean, he was tremendous tonight."
Nelson leaves with injury
Casey Nelson left the game after skating three shifts for 2:47 in the first period. The defenseman sustained an injury while competing for a puck in the corner with Maple Leafs forward Connor Brown. He came out for one shift to begin the second but went back to the dressing room and did not return. Housley had no further update after the game.
The Sabres began the contest down two defensemen already, with Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella both on injured reserve. Both were game-time decisions against the Maple Leafs.
- The Sabres have earned at least a point in each of their last nine home games (7-0-2), their best such streak since Feb. 17 to March 24, 2012.
- Eichel's two-goal effort marked his 13th multi-point game of the season, putting him five shy of his career-high 18. He also led the Sabres with eight shots, a season-high.
- Rasmus Dahlin led all skaters with 29:15 of ice time, marking a new career-high for the rookie defenseman.
The four-game homestand continues against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon. Coverage on MSG-B begins at 12:30 p.m. with the GMC Game Night pregame show, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 1.