Evander Kane was in the hospital. The only wheeling being done by Jack Eichel was on a scooter. Kyle Okposo and Dmitry Kulikov were in suits rather than uniforms. The scoreboard showed a 4-1 loss.
As everything seemed to be crashing down on the Sabres, the guys in the Buffalo dressing room acted as if was just a typical bad day at the office.
“The more and more you’re talking about it, the more you’re making excuses for yourself,” defenseman Zach Bogosian said Thursday night. “We’ve all played this game long enough to know when someone gets hurt, other guys step up. That’s what we have to do.”
There were sincere looks of belief in the eyes of Bogosian and others as they talked about ignoring the setbacks that have struck the Sabres. They made it sound as if they’ll just put their skates on Friday and everything will be fine.
But really, how many blows can this team take before defeated looks replace steely-eyed optimism?
The latest punch to the psyche came just before second intermission in the loss to Montreal. Kane slid nearly full speed into the boards of KeyBank Center, and the impact equaled the force of a car accident. After being helped off the ice, he was put on a stretcher and taken to the hospital for evaluation.
Evaluation of what? Basically everything, including possible internal injuries. A source told The Buffalo News that Kane’s ribs were of particular focus.
“I saw his face and saw the pain he was in, then saw the replay,” linemate Sam Reinhart said. “It was pretty scary, but we’re just hoping for the best.”
The health of Kane was of immediate concern to the Sabres, but those outside the room could take a wider view of the situation. Four of Buffalo’s top players are out of the lineup, with Eichel absent for up to two months and Kane’s status certainly not looking good.
“There’s a little bit of shake your head and snake-bitten,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s kind of come in droves, but it’s part of our game and part of playing.
“You know you’re going to have injuries. You expect to have them throughout your lineup. Unfortunately, you have a rash of them, but that’s no excuse for how we need to play, how we can play. We’ve got to keep fighting through it.”
They seem to be fighting a losing battle. Buffalo narrowly avoided another injury at the end when Montreal's Andrew Shaw slew-footed Johan Larsson and got an match penalty.
“It’s not like we’re the only team going through it,” Reinhart said. “It’s just tough that it seems we’re going through it more and more.”
The absence of prominent players impacted the result in the opener. Buffalo started slow, had a few stretches of dominance and fell in the end. They Sabres slipped into a 2-0 hole, scored in the opening seconds of the third period to give the fans hope, then allowed two goals in the final 14 minutes.
“We were a little out of whack, a little out of position,” Bogosian said. “The offensive-zone stuff is something that will take care of itself. Defensively, we’ve just got to tighten it up.”
The Sabres outshot Montreal 31 to 24 but were outscored. Montreal scored from the crease and on tips, finding holes in Buffalo’s zone.
“We’ve all got to step up and play better,” goaltender Robin Lehner said. “We’ve got to find a way. Good players go down. A lot of teams in the league deal with it. We can’t think too much about it.”
The people outside the dressing room certainly are.