EDMONTON, Alberta -- There is a season-long celebration here marking the final year of play in Rexall Place. The Buffalo Sabres should be celebrating that they never have to play there again. Didn't matter who was wearing the Blue and Gold, or the Black and Red. Buffalo simply didn't win much in the Edmonton Oilers' old barn.
In their last game at Rexall, the Sabres suffered a 4-2 defeat here Sunday on the opener of their Western Canada road trip. It was their first regulation loss in five games after a 3-0-1 stretch. The Oilers, meanwhile, won their third straight after enduring a dismal 1-3-1 road trip.
Buffalo finishes its Rexall days with a final record of 9-29-3 since the Oilers merged into the NHL from the World Hockey Association in 1979. Of course, not many teams had much success in Edmonton during the Wayne Gretzky years. Strangely enough, the Sabres had won three straight here until last year's 3-2 defeat. It was one of the few good runs the Sabres had in the Alberta capital.
No magic in net: Goaltender Chad Johnson had a three-game winning streak snapped in a contest that he couldn't really do much on any of the Edmonton goals. In his previous four games (three starts), Johnson had posted a 1.13 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.
With the back of your hand: Both Buffalo goals came on nifty backhands and resulted in Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly remaining tied for the team lead at nine. Eichel opened the scoring at 6:58 of the first period with the first backhand goal of his NHL career as he cruised through the slot. O'Reilly pulled Buffalo within 3-2 at 13:22 of the second period by quickly shifting to the backhand in front of the crease and depositing a pass from Zach Bogosian.
Boooooooo: That was the reaction of the Edmonton crowd when Eichel's name was announced after his goal. Connor McDavid is out injured, of course. Hmmmm.
Late push: The Sabres outshot Edmonton, 16-6, in the third period and 34-28 for the game. But Oilers goalie Anders Nilsson, who stopped 80 of 83 shots in his last two games, made 32 saves in this one.
Nifty stickwork: The Oilers showed some great hands of their own at both ends of their first goal. Taylor Hall toed with puck at the blue line to just keep it in the offensive zone, whirled and fired a strong snap shot that Teddy Purcell tipped out of midair past Johnson at 9:36 of the first period to pull the hosts even at 1-1.
Quick strike: Things were even for 16 minutes before the Oilers scored twice to push into a 3-1 lead after the first period. Jordan Eberle scored at 16:05, slipping away from Zach Bogosian in front to bang home Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' pass from beneath the goal line. Nugent-Hopkins overwhelmed Sam Reinhart to control the puck and make the play. At 18:55, Hall drove home a loose puck at the edge of the crease just 16 seconds after Josh Gorges went to the penalty box for interference.
Double trouble: Hall, Purcell and Leon Draisaitl all had two points in the first period. Meanwhile, the Buffalo trio of O'Reilly between Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart each posted minus-2 ratings in the opening 20 minutes.
Double review: Edmonton's fourth goal, with 2:17 left in the second period, was celebrated three times. The first was when Luke Gazdic overpowed Carlo Colaiacovo to poke home a loose puck in the crease. Then there was a video review of the goal that determined that Gazdic didn't kick the puck in. But wait, there was more! Dan Bylsma challenged the play for goalie interference. Again, the call went Edmonton's way. The goal stood and the shrill Rexall goal horn rattled with an extended blast in a clear take-that to the Sabres. All replays seemed to show each call was made correctly.
Five alive: Jamie McGinn's assist on Eichel's goal extended his point streak to five games, tying his career long set with Colorado from March 12-19, 2004. He has two goals and four assists in his current run.
Missing homeboys: The injured Tyler Ennis and Mark Pysyk remain on a week-to-week basis and neither made the trip. That means they missed the last chance to play in their hometown's famous rink. Pysyk, in fact, played his junior hockey in the building as the captain of the Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
Up Next: The Sabres headed to Vancouver right after the game and meet the Canucks Monday night in Rogers Arena in the second half of their Western Canada back-to-back. The trip concludes Thursday in Calgary.