SAN JOSE -- Since returning from their bye week, the Buffalo Sabres haven't remotely resembled a playoff team. But when Jack Eichel, of all people, starts putting the puck into his own net on a freakishly bad bounce, you can officially say this is a season going over the side of a California cliff.
Eichel scored his 20th goal of the season Tuesday night. But the 21st puck he put into a net was a killer.
"That one hurts a lot," a somber Eichel said after his own-goal late in the second period put the San Jose Sharks ahead for good in a 4-1 win over Buffalo in SAP Center. "It's obviously not something that's normal. It stinks. It was the turning point of the game. They get a goal at the end of the second period and all of sudden they're leading going into the third."
San Jose's Michael Haley got credit for the goal with 49.4 seconds left in the second that snapped a 1-1 tie. He was just behind Eichel as Cody Franson backhanded a pass to the Buffalo center in front of goaltender Robin Lehner. It hit Eichel's right skate, went through Lehner's legs, deflecting off the goal post before entering the net.
"It's just a real tough bounce," Eichel said. "'Franny' is making a good play to me in front of the net, we're trying to break the puck out and I end up hitting my back skate and it goes through Lenny's legs. ... I went to pull it from behind me to in front of me and I hit it off my own skate."
The goofy goal allowed the Sharks to finally beat Buffalo here for the first time in six tries and in regulation for the first time in the last 12 meetings.
Franson said he and Eichel have worked on the play in practice and replays showed Eichel calling for the puck.
"I didn't think Haley was in position to do much," Franson said. "'Eichs' was right in that area and it's unfortunate. Eichs makes that play 99 times out of 100. The ice was pretty soft, the puck was bouncing around and those are ones you just chalk up to bad luck."
"It was so close to me," Lehner said. "When it gets past my stick, you try to do something but it gets quite awkward. It's a bad bounce unfortunately but the more time you spend in your end, the more chance you have of a bad bounce."
The play was so routine and so unexpected that coach Dan Bylsma said he was actually looking down at some notes with the clock winding down as Franson started to make his play.
"It was an innocent play and an unfortunate play off Jack's skate," said Bylsma. "Jack is in the right spot for support of the breakout. I don't know the communication for Jack wanting it behind the net or right where he got it. It's just a fluke, a bad bounce. You turn your head and it's in the back of the net."
Eichel rattled the bench door a few times after he sat down following the play, then tapped gloves with Lehner as they skated off the ice at the end of the period. While the own-goal got most of the postgame chatter, the fact of the matter was the Sabres weren't nearly good enough for most of this one.
They gave up 20 shots on goal in the first period and were outshot for the game, 41-23. Eichel's actual goal came at 1:10 of the first period and the Sabres were blanked for nearly 59 minutes after.
"The score is indicative of the game," said Bylsma. "A lot of their 20 shots in the first period was us managing the puck, executing, turning the puck over at both blue lines and giving their transition game and their speed opportunities. We hopped out in the game and got the lead but it certainly wasn't indicative how it was played."
"You get what you deserve in this league and we didn't deserve to win that game or be in that game," said Lehner, who was stellar in the first 40 minutes and finished the game with 37 saves."You create your own bounces with how you play and that's why they won."
Joe Pavelski had two goals for San Jose, with his second coming at 5:28 of the third period and just a few seconds after Sharks goalie Martin Jones stopped Eichel walking in alone on the net.
"It's frustrating to make a good play coming through the neutral zone there and 30 seconds later it's in the back of your own net," Eichel said. "It's just a tough one to swallow. You feel bad about it and wish I could have gotten one back for our team and wasn't able to.
"Hockey is a game of bounces and I feel like I've been getting a lot of good ones lately," Eichel added. "It's just unfortunate I got a bad one."