Odds are good the Sabres had a long, quiet ride home from Toronto. The way things are going, it could be completely silent in Sabreland a week from today.
Buffalo closed a weekend to forget with a 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night. It was a stunning setback against a team that had its Air Canada Centre fan base rebelling because of ineptitude.
The defeat was made worse by a pair of shootout victories. Washington beat Montreal, 3-2, while Ottawa edged Philadelphia, 4-3. The eighth-place Capitals moved two points ahead of the Sabres, but it's essentially three points with three games to play because the Caps own the tiebreaker. Seventh-place Ottawa extended its lead over Buffalo to four points.
"It's disheartening," Buffalo center Cody Hodgson said.
Combined with Friday's loss to Pittsburgh, the Sabres have dropped consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Feb. 16. It seemed inconceivable a second setback was coming because of the Leafs' struggles. The Sabres became the first visitor to lose in Toronto in 12 games.
"That's twice that we can't find a way to win," Buffalo captain Jason Pominville said. "They were having a bit of a tough time, and there's no better time for them to get back on track than against us, their rival team and a team they want to knock out. It falls on us to be better."
The Maple Leafs come to Buffalo Tuesday for the Sabres' final regular-season game in First Niagara Center. Based on the weekend, it might be the last game in the building until October. The Sabres close Thursday in Philadelphia and Saturday in Boston.
"This was a must-win," left wing Ville Leino said. "Obviously, we've still got a little bit of a chance, but it's up to what some other teams are going to do, too. Tuesday we have to win. Otherwise, we don't have a chance."
The fans in Toronto have been bitter lately, with good reason. Toronto's last home victory was Feb. 6, and it was followed by an 0-8-3 slide. The Sabres had a chance to make the fans restless again by getting the game's first power play.
Instead of capitalizing, Buffalo coughed up the puck and the early opportunity to seize control. Andrej Sekera simply lost the puck at the blue line, and Toronto's Joey Crabb swooped in and took off on a breakaway that covered three-quarters of the length of the ice. Crabb easily beat Ryan Miller high to the glove side as the Sabres on the bench sat motionless.
"The killer was we let them in the game right off the bat," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "The play by Sekera was the killer. We had the crowd out of it."
Midway through the second period, the Sabres had some swagger back and a tie. When the period ended, they had a two-goal deficit and a long road ahead.
Tyler Ennis knotted the game for the Sabres with 9:01 left in the second, but the Leafs scored twice in the final 4:43 to take control. The Leafs took their 3-1 lead with just 0.7 seconds to go.
With the fans yelling shoot, Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur drove toward the Buffalo net and took a shot from the slot with three seconds to go. The puck hit Miller and bounced into the air off his right arm.
With the clock ticking toward one second, John-Michael Liles and Buffalo defenseman Brayden McNabb crashed the crease. The puck hit Liles' skate and caromed into the net with 0.7 seconds to go, the referee quickly signaling a goal, confirming it on video review.
"That's not the way to play, catch up all game long," Leino said. "We've got to be better at the start."
Leino gave the Sabres hope by scoring with 13:12 to play, but Toronto's lead was back to two just 3 1/2 minutes later on a rush goal by Matt Frattin. The goal dimmed Buffalo's chances and brightened Toronto's mood, with many in the crowd of 19,546 chanting "Mill-er, Mill-er."
"They're a great rush team," Pominville said. "Teams have adjusted against them and been saying, 'Just don't give them any rush opportunities and you're giving yourself a better chance to win.' Unfortunately, we didn't do that."
The Sabres made the final 2:45 interesting with another goal from the Ennis line as Stafford beat goalie Ben Scrivens..
"We had to find a way to win," Pominville said. "We just gave up too much and couldn't win a game."