There was no shortage of effort tonight by the Buffalo Sabres as they fell 4-3 in overtime to the visiting Arizona Coyotes. The Sabres twice trailed and rallied to eventually earn a point by taking the game beyond regulation, but Buffalo marched to the penalty box one too many times to claim the win.
They weren’t the only team with penalty trouble. The game was sloppy all-around, featuring 10 minor penalties altogether between Buffalo and Arizona, including a pair of too many men on the ice infractions for Buffalo. The most painful was the last, a tripping call to Mike Weber with just 30 seconds left in the third period. Arizona would go on to score in overtime on that power play and skate off with the victory.
“That [penalty] kind of hurt,” said head coach Ted Nolan of following the contest. “Going into the third period down a goal, you fight back, tie it up […] to take that penalty at that time, it hurt for sure.”
The Sabres may have suffered another blow in the form of Tyler Ennis’s injury. Ennis, who recorded his 19th goal on the night, left in the middle of the game with what Nolan described as an upper-body injury. The severity is unknown, but Ennis was seen walking around normally postgame. Nolan said Ennis will be evaluated tonight and tomorrow.
Buffalo netminder Matt Hackett had his own scare late in the third period when he was bowled over in the crease and was down on the ice in visible pain for a short time. He eventually got back to his feet and finished the contest, performing admirably to stop 38 of 42 shots thrown his way.
“He battled through and took that bang at the end of the period,” said Nolan of Hackett. “I was happy with the way he played.”
Some fans in the arena clearly wished he had allowed an extra goal of two. For a team who’s fanbase isn’t known to travel in large numbers, the Coyotes had a very vocal group cheering them on inside First Niagara Center—the vast majority of which came from Sabres fans who wished to see Arizona climb in the standings ahead of Buffalo and away from the 30th place spot, which holds the best odds of securing a chance at either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in the upcoming draft.
That became evident very early on, when the Coyotes struck first on the scoreboard in the opening period and a good chunk of the crowd erupted. Jordan Szwarz tallied his first goal of the year with a sharp wrister once he got a clear look at Hackett.
“It’s real tough; we’re doing a job of keeping [the negativity] out of the room, and that’s why losses like this are so tough,” said Sabres captain Brian Gionta. “We battled hard to get close, and it’s tough to lose them.”
The fans who were in attendance to root on the Sabres—and no one else—didn’t need to wait long to cheer. Buffalo tied it up less than three minutes later when Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis managed a 2-on-1 rush into the Arizona zone. Moulson eventually got the puck to Ennis, who approached Coyotes’ goaltender Mike Smith all alone and stick-handled the puck into a yawning net. The goal was Ennis’s 19th on the year.
After taking the lead on a Rasmus Risotlainen rocket while on the power play, the Sabres found themselves being pinned in their own zone by the surging Coyotes for much of the latter half of the second period. Arizona’s persistence more than paid off, earning them a pair of goals. Oliver Ekman-Larsson tallied his 21st of the season on a shot through a cluster of players, while David Moss notched his fourth by tipping a blast from Sam Gagner.
Arizona seemed to be on its way to a victory before they committed a major blunder while killing off a late-game penalty. An attempted clear through the middle of the zone landed right on Gionta’s stick, and the Sabres captain wasted no opportunity to tie the game up again when he fired the puck past Smith for his 10th on the year.
The game-winning goal came at just 56 seconds into the overtime period, when a hard slapshot from Gagner appeared to bounce off a stick or two before flying past Hackett.
Both teams will play again this coming Saturday. While the Coyotes are headed to Pittsburgh for an afternoon contest, the Sabres will visit the Colorado Avalanche in the evening. That game is scheduled for 9:00 PM EST.