At the tail end of their Western road trip, and with a chance to tie for a share of the eight seed the Buffalo Sabres fell flat on their face in Winnipeg, losing 3-1 to the Jets on Monday night.
Feeding off the energy of the raucous crowd at the MTS Center, the Jets pushed the play in the Buffalo end early and often.
Throughout the first period the Jets were the hungrier, faster team, constantly hounding the Sabres in their own end forcing turnover after turnover. It was only a matter of time until Winnipeg capitalized on their opportunities. Late in the first the Jets would force a neutral zone turnover by Cody Hodgson, which led to a scoring opportunity for Bryan Little. Little’s shot would deflect off of Ryan Miller to a wide open Andrew Ladd in front of the net who banked the puck home to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead.
The goal by Ladd was the first time the Sabres had allowed the opening goal of a game in their last 10 contests. On the flip side, Winnipeg’s goal was their 7th opening goal in their last 8 home games.
The second period began just as frenzied and fast paced as the first, with the Sabres continuing their trend of sloppy passing and turnovers. Buffalo would fail to convert two consecutive power-plays early in the period but managed to tie the game with 35 seconds remaining in the frame. Brad Boyes threw the puck on net with time running down and forwards Matt Ellis and Corey Tropp took a few whacks at the puck in front of netminder Ondrej Pavelec before the goal light went on. Corey Tropp was credited with the tally, his second of the season.
Despite having been out-hustled, and generally out-played through forty minutes, the Sabres were knotted with the Jets with one period remaining. But on this night the Jets were relentless and the Sabres turnovers would come back to haunt them.
Nearing the midway point of the third period Jason Pominville crossed the blue line looking for Thomas Vanek in front of the net, but his pass deflected off a Winnipeg defender and onto the stick of Bryan Little. Little hit his home run pass to Blake Wheeler for a clear cut breakaway. Wheeler rifled the puck over Miller’s left shoulder and off the crossbar into the net to give the Jets a 2-1 lead.
Later in the period ex-Sabre Chris Thorburn, who is not generally known for his offensive prowess, took a Bryan Little pass in the neutral zone and proceeded to skate right around flat footed Robyn Regehr towards Ryan Miller. Coming in from Miller’s left Thorburn was able to slide the puck past Ryan and give the Jets an insurmountable 3-1 lead. Bryan Little picked up his 3rd assist of the night on the play.
That goal by Thorburn was a microcosm of how this night was playing out for Buffalo. Winnipeg wanted every puck more, skated faster to every open spot, and came across as the team more determined to not only win this game, but prove their playoff worthiness.
Much of Buffalo’s struggles tonight can be blamed on their road weariness. The Sabres have been traveling across the country, playing virtually every other night, whereas Winnipeg was wrapping up an eight game homestand and hadn’t played in two nights.
As deflating as the loss to Winnipeg (72 pts) is, the Sabres (68 pts) still put together an impressive trip garnering 6 of a possible 8 points and climbing to within 4 points of the eight seeded Jets.
Buffalo will now return home for some much needed rest before they take on the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday March 7th at the First Niagara Center. That game will be broadcast on MSG.