Sabres let one slip away


The Buffalo Sabres’ momentum gained in the final moments of Monday night’s loss in Detroit carried over into Tuesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, quickly going up 3-0 against the Sidney Crosby-led Pens. Ultimately, the Penguins overpowered the Sabres, defeating Buffalo by a score of 5-4 in a shootout.

The Sabres came out firing in the first period, scoring on the power play following a Carl Hagelin hooking penalty less than ten minutes into the game. Casey Nelson passed it to Johan Larsson, whose wrist shot went off the pad of Penguins goaltender Matt Murray. The rebound went directly to Matt Moulson, who backhanded in his sixth goal of the season, his first goal since February 16th. Casey Nelson picked up the secondary assist on the play, his third point in as many games.

Just five minutes later, the Sabres found themselves on the penalty kill after Josh Gorges went to the box for hooking Penguins forward Matt Cullen. After losing a face-off in the Sabres zone, Ryan O’Reilly was able to deflect a pass between two Penguins players, and fought along the boards until he was able to bring the puck into the offensive zone. O’Reilly passed the puck to David Legwand, whose backhand shot trickled through the pads of Murray and towards the goalline. The Penguins were unable to clear the puck, and O’Reilly tapped the puck into the empty net to pick up his 18th goal of the season to give the Sabres the 2-0 lead. O’Reilly’s goal, his 54th point of the season, will go down as the 300th point of his career.

With just over one minute remaining in the period, a beautiful passing play involving Zach Bogosian, Ryan O’Reilly and Jake McCabe resulted in the third goal of the night for the Sabres. Both teams were playing with four men following penalties to Rasmus Ristolainen and Chris Kunitz, and the Sabres would quickly take advantage. Jack Eichel won the face-off in the Penguins’ zone, quickly playing the puck back to Bogosian. Bogosian then passed it to O’Reilly, who passed it in front of the net to defenseman Jake McCabe. McCabe backhanded the puck past Murray, scoring his fourth goal of the season to give the Sabres a three goal lead heading into the second period.

The second period would be full of opportunities for the Penguins, beginning with a Ben Lovejoy goal less than two minutes into the period. Penguins winger Bryan Rust’s pass across the crease would find Lovejoy, whose shot would bank off of Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson and into the back of the net, cutting the Sabres lead to two.

Just minutes later, rookie winger Conor Sheary would give the Penguins their second goal of the game with his sixth goal of the season. A scrum in the corner involving players from both teams resulted in Sheary taking the puck in front of the net and shooting it across Johnson, making the score 3-2 with more than half of the game left to play. Picking up an assist on the play was Sidney Crosby, his 49th career point against the Sabres.

Pittsburgh would be able to tie the game with just over one minute remaining in the second period with a short handed goal of their own. Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnhackl skated into the Buffalo zone while Rasmus Ristolainen was the lone defenseman back. Cullen passed it over to Kuhnhackl, whose one timer went past Johnson to tie the game at three a piece.

The Penguins would take the lead 24 seconds later with another short handed goal on the same Pittsburgh penalty. Chad Johnson gave the puck away to Carl Hagelin behind the net, who quickly passed the puck in front of the net to forward Nick Bonino, who had the whole net to shoot the puck into. Bonino’s goal, his seventh of the season, gave the Penguins a 4-3 lead, their first lead of the night.

The Sabres would tie the game early on in the third period, scoring their second power play goal of the night to even the game at four a side. Johan Larsson’s long pass across the ice would perfectly land on Zach Bogosian’s stick, who shot it past Matt Murray for his seventh goal of the season. Casey Nelson was also able to pick up an assist on Bogosian’s goal, his fourth assist in just the third game of his NHL career. Despite pressure from both teams in the final minutes of the game, Bogosian’s goal would prove to be the final goal of regulation, and the game would go into overtime tied at 4.

Although the overtime period would be full of opportunities for the Sabres, Buffalo would be unable to capitalize, and the game would go into a shootout. Kris Letang and Phil Kessel would be the only goal scorers in the shootout, securing the 5-4 victory for the Penguins.

The obvious story coming out of this game is the Sabres’ disastrous second period. Buffalo went into the second with a three goal lead, and left the period trailing 4-3. The Sabres were outshot 14-4 in the second, and allowed two short handed goals on the same power play. Although the Sabres were able to tie the game and push it to a shootout, it was ultimately the horrible second period that was the biggest contributor to the Sabres loss.

Although it was in a losing effort, Chad Johnson played a strong game. The Sabres were outshot 46-30 Tuesday night, and Johnson stopped 42 shots that came his way. Johnson kept the Sabres in a game that they should not have been in for as long as they were, which is all a team can ask of their goaltender.

Buffalo’s loss Tuesday night at the Consol Energy Center secures the season series sweep for the Penguins, who also picked up their ninth win in their past 11 games. The Sabres’ next game is Thursday night at the First Niagara Center, as Buffalo takes on the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final time of the 2015-16 season. The only thing that will be on the line Thursday night is pride, something that both teams would love to have going into next season.

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