Despite not playing in ten days, the Sabres entered Friday night’s matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins with plenty of buzz surrounding the team. Fans were still talking about the confirmed sale of the franchise to Terry Pegula, and Buffalo came into the game on an 8-3-1 run, their best stretch of the season.
Buffalo’s momentum became clearly visible on the ice at CONSOL Energy Center early in the contest. 17 seconds in, Paul Gaustad flipped the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury in a mad scramble at the net after an effective Sabres forecheck produced a turnover by Pittsburgh.
Less than seven minutes later, the Sabres found themselves with a 2-0 lead. After stealing the puck away behind the net, Mike Grier attempted a wrap-around while Fleury was out of position. Grier never quite maintained control of the puck for it to slip right into the net, but it still managed to bounce off a Pittsburgh defensemen and slide into the net as Alex Goligoski futilely attempted to fish it out.
The Sabres proceeded to have a strong performance throughout the first period even as Pittsburgh applied pressure. Ryan Miller fended off a host of solid scoring opportunities by the Pens, while the Sabres initiated their own ways to open fire on Fleury at the other end of the ice. Tyler Myers added to the show with a punishing hit on Chris Kunitz into the corner after the Buffalo defense stifled a 3-on-2 rush by Pittsburgh.
Then Buffalo went completely flat. Dustin Jeffrey finally put Pittsburgh on the board at 3:50 of the second period when his shot bounced off Tim Connolly and past Miller.
Just seconds after Buffalo successfully killed off a penalty to Myers, Tyler Kennedy tied the game up at two apiece with a hard shot on a rush. A mere forty seconds later, Gerbe was stripped of the puck by Jordan Staal as he listlessly tried to walk out of the Sabres zone. Staal sent the puck to Matt Cooke, who faked-out Miller and put it into the net to give Pittsburgh their first lead of the night.
Pittsburgh proceeded to dominate the rest of the second period, bombarding Miller with 17 shots. The backpedaling Sabres only managed to land six shots on goal, and had a single shot on Fleury at the midway point of the second.
Buffalo saw itself play a significantly better third period, generating as many shots in the first ten minutes as they did in all of the previous period. Thomas Vanek had a great chance to even the contest early on as he walked into the Pittsburgh zone unopposed, but his cannon of a slap shot was deflected away from the net by Penguins’ defensemen Paul Martin.
Even though Buffalo went full throttle in the final couple of minutes, storming the Pittsburgh net a number of times, they could never send the puck past Fleury for a third time before the game expired. As Harry Neale noted during the broadcast-
“When you give up three goals in a period, you’re in trouble”