Two games, two days, two losses – all leaving the Sabres now two points out of a playoff spot. Although the season is still far from over and “Buffalo still believes,” the weekend certainly could have made things easier for the playoff hopes.
The weekend began with a home match-up against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday for Fan Appreciation Night. The Penguins, missing star defenseman Kris Letang who didn’t travel with the team due to injury, got off to a quick start on the power play as Evgeni Malkin scored just 3:50 into the game.
The rest of the period was back and forth, as former-Penguin Jordan Leopold scored his ninth goal of the season to tie the game before Sidney Crosby scored for Pittsburgh. Tyler Ennis tallied a goal (assisted by two defensemen – Alexander Sulzer and Mike Weber) to re-tie the game at 2 before the period ended.
Just over two minutes into the second period, Penguins forward Matt Cooke boarded Sabres D Mike Weber into the end boards. Although Weber appeared shaken, he played the next shift before disappearing for the remainder of the period. Several minutes into the third period, he reappeared for a shift before once again heading to the locker room. Cooke was assessed a minor boarding penalty on the play.
Also in the second period, the Penguins would score twice to regain the lead, as James Neal scored his 38th goal of the season and Steve Sullivan scored a goal to earn three points on the night. Thomas Vanek added an unassisted goal toward the end of the period to cut the lead to one, but the Sabres couldn’t complete the comeback, and Jordan Staal notched the empty-netter to seal the win for Pittsburgh.
Weber wasn’t the only defenseman injured during the game, as Tyler Myers was also hurt after blocking a shot. Both would be deemed out for Saturday’s away game in Toronto, prompting the call-up of both Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan from the Rochester Americans.
Although McNabb and Brennan are arguably the Amerks’ best defensemen, their presence wasn’t enough to fill the missing void of Weber, Myers, AND Christian Ehrhoff, who was injured in a prior game and will miss significant time.
The Leafs’ game began much as the Penguins game did, with the first goal being scored by the opponent. Joey Crabb notched a shorthanded goal (ouch!) at 9:32 of the first period to put Toronto ahead by one early in the game.
An uneventful next twenty minutes ensued, until the hot line of Stafford-Ennis-Foligno combined for a goal just over halfway into the second period. Toronto, however, powered back to score twice in under five minutes. Phil Kessel scored his 37th goal of the season before John-Michael Liles also got on the board.
The Sabres managed to score twice in the third period, sandwiching a goal by Toronto’s Matt Frattin. Ville Leino and Drew Stafford added goals, but it wasn’t enough as Buffalo dropped the game 4-3.
Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford both had a goal and an assist in the loss. Ryan Miller had 25 saves, but in the end it was Leafs’ rookie goaltender Ben Scrivens – called up from the AHL – who sealed the win as Buffalo dropped back to ninth place in the conference. The loss, although not the final say on anything, certainly dealt a blow to the Sabres’ playoff hopes.
Now, with three games remaining on the season, Buffalo is still in control of their own destiny. All but two spots in the Eastern Conference have been claimed, so the Sabres need to focus not only on the Washington Capitals but also the Florida Panthers, who could drop to eighth place and then would become the main focus of Buffalo.
It’s not over until the Sabres are mathematically out – and that’s not yet, so keep believing.