The Buffalo Sabres showed flashes of brilliance tonight, but burned out late in the third to drop a 3-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
While the Sabres’ offense was more prominent than it has been for the majority of this regular season, their defense failed them from start to finish, allowing 52 shots on net—a burden that was too much even for the stellar performance by starting netminder Michal Neuvirth.
“We can’t take anyone lightly in this league,” said a dejected Neuvirth following the contest. “The effort was just not there […] we have to be way better than what we showed tonight.”
Neuvirth finished the night with 49 saves for a .942 save percentage, and was named the media’s third star of the game.
Initially, the Sabres played with some of the most grit and poise that fans have seen all season. After a competitive first period that saw Buffalo create numerous chances on net and effortlessly kill off a penalty, the Sabres managed to reach the scoreboard first.
Sabres captain Brian Gionta and alternate captain Matt Moulson collaborated to put the puck in the back of the net just 26 seconds into the middle frame. Gionta stormed out from behind the Edmonton net and tossed a pass to Moulson, who finished the play with a stiff slapshot that darted by Oilers netminder Victor Fasth. The goal was Moulson’s first on the year.
Buffalo’s second goal came at 6:34 in the third period as Drew Stafford netted his third tally of the season. Stafford raced into the Edmonton zone, gliding around a defender, before sending a scorching wrister past Fasth.
Edmonton matched Buffalo’s second period score with a goal from Iiro Pakarien, and pulled ahead as the third period neared its end. Mark Arcobello earned his fourth of the year at 11:35 while camped just a few feet from the Buffalo net, while Boyd Gordon sucked the life out the building with a tap-in at 15:45.
“We went through this same song a number of times,” said head coach Ted Nolan. “And the worst thing about is we had the two-one lead, and the biggest mistake is to give [the Oilers] the two goals to go ahead.”
Still, a game of hockey seems almost insignificant on a night where tribute is paid to all those lives affected by the deadly disease known as cancer. Hockey Fights Cancer Night at First Niagara Center brought countless smiles to Buffalo fans as video clips on the jumbotron showed Sabres players telling their experiences with loved one stricken by cancer, and as the fans in attendance raised plaques commemorating those that they knew who are battling or have battled the disease.
The broadest smiles were seen when two Buffalo legends came together to perform the ceremonial puck drop. NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and Sabres Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret, both cancer survivors, stepped out onto the ice to thunderous ovations and dropped the puck on Hockey Fights Cancer Night.
Just prior to the contest, Jeanneret appeared on the pregame show and revealed that his most recent CAT scan was “all clear” and that “for the moment, I’m cancer free.”
The Sabres will be back on the ice in short order as they welcome the Pittsburgh Penguins tomorrow evening. That game will conclude Buffalo’s four-game homestand and will take place at 7:00 PM EST.