A pair of late goals stifled a would-be comeback for the Sabres in a 4-3 loss to Chicago on Friday at First Niagara Center. Buffalo led 3-2 with less than two minutes to play in the contest, but Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scored twice in a one-minute span to shock the Sabres and earn the victory for Chicago.
Marcus Foligno bookended the Sabres’ scoring with a pair of goals and Johan Larsson also scored for Buffalo in the loss. In net, Anders Lindback allowed four goals on 36 shots for the Sabres. In addition to Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp each scored for Chicago.
Chicago’s comeback began when the Blackhawks pulled their goaltenderfor an extra attacker in the game’s final minutes. Toews beat Larsson in an ensuing faceoff, feeding Keith for a shot and then scoring on a rebound. Then, 47 second later, Toews ended up on the receiving end of a 2-on-1 opportunity to net the deciding goal.
“It’s a bounce here and there, obviously,” Foligno said of the late goals afterward. “They score on a six-on-five, and then a misplay by two guys and it ends up 2-on-1 and Jonathan Toews is going down one-on-one with the goalie. He’s going to put it in nine times out of 10.”
At the outset, it looked as if the Sabres were in for a long night against one of the league’s top teams. Keith opened the scoring for Chicago less than three minutes into the game, and Sharp deked around Andre Benoit and fired a shot past Lindback to double the Blackhawks’ lead a few minutes later. At that point, the shot tally was 9-3 in favor of Chicago.
But for the third straight game, Buffalo fought back. The Sabres outshot Chicago 8-3 for the remainder of the first period and again 16-12 in the second. For their part, the Blackhawks a failed to capitalize on a few good scoring opportunities – none more glaring than a missed one-timer by Vermette in the dwindling seconds of the first period.
The Sabres finally broke through on Foligno’s goal in the second period, a backhander on a rebound in front of the net. It was the first time the Sabres were able to breach Chicago’s rookie goaltender, Scott Darling, who had allowed just one goal in his last three appearances coming into the contest. The goal set the tone for Buffalo’s comeback. Larsson scored on a tip-in to tie the game early in the third and, with momentum in Buffalo’s favor, Foligno scored the go-ahead goal on his own rebound with less than eight minutes to play.
After the game, Sabres head coach Ted Nolan lauded Foligno’s efforts in the comeback attempt.
“As much as you’re disappointed with the loss, a big bright spot for us was the way Marcus Foligno played,” Nolan said. “I thought he was really, really good. The way he battled, especially on that first goal, he really battled through and he was certainly a bright light for that entire game.”
RASMUS ON A ROLL
Rasmus Ristolainen continued one of the best offensive stretches of his young career with his two assists in the loss. The second-year defenseman has now registered a point in four straight games, the longest streak of his career and second longest by a Sabre this season. He’ll have a chance to match Chris Stewart’s season-high streak of five games with a point on Saturday against the Islanders.
“Rasmus has been playing unbelievable offense the past month,” Foligno said. “I think that he’s improved dramatically and it’s been great to see a young guy like that lead on the back end and improve. He’s been getting shots through, I think he’s been working on it. Just his composure too with the puck, he’s been rushing in a lot, head up, and finding guys too so it’s been great to see a guy like that play well.
It was Ristolainen who made both of the Sabres’ first two goals possible on Friday. When Foligno scored to put the Sabres on the board in the second period, it was on a rebound off of a Ristolainen slap shot. Larsson’s goal in the third also stemmed from a slap shot by the young defenseman, this time on a tip in front of the net.
Ristolainen had scored in three consecutive contests prior to missing the Sabres’ last game against Toronto due to sickness, including a two-point performance in a loss to Colorado on March 28. He now has 19 points on the season, including seven in the last four games.
RISK AND REWARD
Friday’s loss marked the sixth straight game that the Sabres have scored at least three goals, their longest such streak of the season. After the game, Foligno attributed the team’s offensive success to their willingness to take more chances.
“I think it’s confidence. But I think it’s just being relaxed and knowing you have nothing to lose so you can make plays,” he said. “Those guys that are making the high risk plays that are getting rewarded for it, you’ve got to do it.”