Jeff Skinner scored a pair of goals to bring them within earshot, but a third-period comeback effort fell short for the Buffalo Sabres in what ended as a 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers at KeyBank Center on Friday night.
The Sabres trailed 3-2 after the second intermission and went on to outshoot the Rangers, 13-7, in the third period, including several grade-A looks for the potential tying goal.
Pavel Buchnevich effectively ended Buffalo's comeback hopes when he redirected a Kevin Hayes shot to extend New York's lead with 4:01 remaining. Vladimir Namestnikov scored into an open net eight seconds later, then added an empty-net goal in the game's final minute.
"I don't think we had a very good start to the game, Sabres captain Jack Eichel said. "It seems like we're all over them [in the third period], we've got a pretty good push going. Maybe if we get that third goal it's a different story, but we don't."
Video: BUF Recap: Skinner nets two in 6-2 loss to Rangers
The Sabres conclude their seven-game homestand with a 3-3-1 record. They allowed a combined 17 goals in the first three contests but had surrendered just five goals in three games entering Friday.
Phil Housley expressed frustration that the team's performance against the Rangers more closely resembled the first half of the homestand, marking a step back from the defensive-zone progress they had made of late.
"We didn't execute," Housley said. "You look at our game, we didn't come back and support on the breakout, we didn't work. We were disconnected as five, we didn't reload, we didn't execute. When we don't execute, we look slow, we sloppy, we let guys off the wall in D-zone coverage. We were easy to play against in the first period.
"It's very disappointing, because I feel we were taking a step in the right direction. We were trending in a good direction. You have to
understand desperation at this time of the season, and every shift counts, every play counts, the details of the game. That's what's disappointing, because you feel we're moving in the right direction and we take a step back."
The Rangers opened the scoring at 4:09 in the first period when Brendan Smith won a race to a rebound, freeing the puck for Boo Nieves to bury from the slot. Jesper Fast made it 2-0 at 14:03 of the period, deflecting a shot from the point to punctuate a long shift in the Sabres' end.
Skinner scored to cut the deficit in half 53 seconds into the second period, but Jimmy Vesey won a race to the net and buried a Buchnevich feed less than a minute later.
Video: NYR@BUF: Skinner snaps home wrister from the circle
"We thought it was going to be easy, and New York worked, give them credit," Housley said. "They cycled the puck well. We didn't pin a guy on a cycle. We didn't kill a play. We just let them roam and now we're just riding our checks and it just looks like we're soft.
Skinner put the Sabres back on track with a power-play goal late in the second period, and chances to tie the game abounded in third. Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev twice stopped Tage Thompson from point-blank range in addition to a pair of power-play saves on Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin.
Georgiev finished the night with 31 saves. Linus Ullmark stopped 23 of 28 shots for the Sabres, who begin a three-game road trip in New Jersey on Sunday.
"You can't really blame that sort of stuff," Eichel said of the offensive opportunities. "I think it's important for us to get back to work. We've got a nice little road trip here. You can really only worry about the next game. That's what we need to do now.
"Obviously, it's frustrating. We would have liked to end our homestand on a better note, but we play Jersey on Sunday, it's a big game for us."
Okposo leaves with injury
Kyle Okposo left the game and did not return following a third-period fight with Rangers defenseman Tony DeAngelo. Housley did not have an update on the forward's status afterward.
"You never want to see one of your teammates get hurt," Zach Bogosian said. "Great job by him, it's not an easy thing to do what he did. Obviously, you tip the cap to him. Like I said, it's not an easy thing to do."
35 for 53
Video: NYR@BUF: Skinner buries PPG for his second of game
Skinner's goals were his 35th and 36th of the season, making him the fifth player in franchise history to score at least 35 goals in his first season with the Sabres. The others, according to NHL PR:
46 - Pat LaFontaine (1991-92)
44 - Richard Martin (1971-72)
38 - Gilbert Perreault (1970-71)
38 - Ray Sheppard (1987-88)
Skinner remains on pace for 50 goals, which would mark the seventh such season in franchise history and the first since LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny both reached the mark in 1992-93.
The game also marked his eighth multi-point outing this season, the most by a Sabres player since Thomas Vanek had 10 in 2008-09.
The Sabres open their three-game road trip in New Jersey on Sunday evening. 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.