So much for that holiday-time bump in the schedule the Buffalo Sabres were hoping for.
After wins over Ottawa, the New York Rangers, Edmonton and Los Angeles coincided with the return of Jack Eichel, the Sabres were looking for this segment to pile up points against Eastern Conference foes currently not in the playoff pack.
It hasn't worked. Buffalo lost to the Carolina Hurricanes for the second time in six days and dropped its third straight overall with a mostly dreary 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Canes Thursday night before 18,863 in KeyBank Center.
The Sabres were outshot in the game, 34-23, and fell to 6-9-7 this year against Eastern Conference teams. Conversely, Buffalo is 6-3-1 against the West.
Stuck at 299: Sabres coach Dan Bylsma failed in his third straight try at the 300th win of his NHL coaching career.
Waking up: The Sabres gave up the first eight shots on goal in the third period and were being outshot, 27-12, before they finally woke up. Johan Larsson broke the shutout of Carolina's Cam Ward with 14:28, banging home a shot from the edge of the crease after a neat pass from behind the goal from Sam Reinhart.
Scoring First: The Sabres gave up the first goal for the sixth straight game and it took Carolina just 1 minute, 44 seconds to get it, with Jeff Skinner beating Robin Lehner with a hard shot from the faceoff circle. Skinner had plenty of open ice as Dmitry Kulikov inexplicably left his position on the odd-man rush.
Scoring Second: The Canes made it 2-0 at 17:51 of the first as defenseman Justin Faulk tallied his sixth of the season, beating Lehner high to the glove side on the back end of a 3-on-1 after Rasmus Ristolainen lost the puck at the Carolina blue line.
Message sending?: The Sabres had one first-period power play and Jack Eichel wasn't on either unit. Eichel didn't practice on the power play at the morning skate and wasn't on it when the game started either. It was his fourth straight game without a point.
When Justin Faulk went off for hooking with 6:56 left, Eichel was back at his normal spot on the point. he had Buffalo's best chance to score, a one-timer from the left circle that Ward stopped.
The final dagger: Sebastian Aho scored into the empty net for Carolina with 59.7 seconds left.
Surviving short-handed: The Sabres entered the game as the NHL's worst penalty-killing unit but killed off all four minors they took in the second period. The Hurricanes came into the game eighth on the power play -- and third on the road at 24 percent.
Cue "Brass Bonanza": The loss prevented the Sabres for compiling a six-game point streak against the Carolina franchise for the first time since they went 5-0-1 against the then-Hartford Whalers from Oct. 23, 1994 to April 4, 1995 (for the kiddos out there, Bonanza was the Whalers' constantly-played theme song at the Hartford Civic Center).
Back in Business: The Hurricanes had been idle since their 2-1 shootout win over the Sabres Saturday in Raleigh because their game Monday against Detroit in PNC Arena was postponed due to ice system problems.
New scratches: William Carrier was a healthy scratch for the first time this season after getting just one goal and one assist in 21 games. Cody Franson was a surprise scratch on defense after taking the morning skate and warmups in his normal spot alongside Josh Gorges. Justin Falk played in place of Franson, who the Sabres said was injured.
Up Next: The Sabres play their final pre-Christmas game Friday night at 7 against the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. They play Tuesday in Detroit after the holiday break and the next home game is Thursday against Boston in the opener of a home-and-home series.