ST. LOUIS – Overtime in the snow went fine Sunday back home in Orchard Park. Out here in the Midwest, overtime on ice didn't have the same kind of happy ending.
There are so many ways you can twist the last 25 minutes in Scottrade Center. The Buffalo Sabres were in a 2-0 hole through two periods and doing nothing against the St. Louis Blues. Then Evan Rodrigues scored two goals and they suddenly had a chance to pull off an unlikely win against one of the NHL's behemoths.
Too bad the Sabres couldn't seal the deal. Vladimir Tarasenko sped around Jack Eichel and poked the puck through Robin Lehner with 36 seconds left in OT to give the Blues a 3-2 win.
On one hand, that's two straight OT losses for the Sabres after Friday's last-second crusher in Chicago. On the other hand, that's four points out of six on their Central Division road trip.
After last week's back-to-back embarrassment against Pittsburgh, who would have predicted that?
"It should have been a six out of six road trip," Eichel said matter-of-factly. "Opportunity tonight in overtime, good opportunity in Chicago. Two points we should have."
The Sabres had major troubles in shootouts last season but their problems this year are in the 3-on-3 portion, where they're just 1-5. The Sabres were outshot, 4-1, Sunday and didn't do much with the puck. Eichel got burned by Tarasenko and Evander Kane failed to pick up the speedy St. Louis winger either.
"I thought I had help behind and I was trying to push him into whoever was playing back," Eichel said. "I'd have to look at it again. Probably not the guy you want skating down the right wing at the end of overtime."
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) December 11, 2017
Lehner made 42 saves in the game as St. Louis had a 45-24 bulge in shots on goal. That's 90 saves in two games for the Buffalo goalie – and a pair of overtime losses for his effort.
"I didn't want him to get a shot off so I did a pokecheck maybe a little millisecond too early and it went off my stick and went in," Lehner said. "He's a helluva player with a helluva shot and I just wanted to take that away."
Lehner had stopped Tarasenko on a similar rush shortly before Rodrigues' tying goal but didn't want the St. Louis speedster to have the same kind of opportunity.
"He hit me in the top of my shoulder from very close in," Lehner said. "That's going bar and in. I just didn't want him to get another chance. I'm pretty good at poke-checking and I think I got it. It was just unfortunate it went off my stick and in."
Coach Phil Housley loved the way his team turned things around in the third period but acknowledged they have to get better in overtime when extra points are there for the taking.
"If we don't have a plan to attack or don't have a chance to attack, I think we've got to turn away and just keep the possession," Housley said. "Sometimes they're forcing things there. I think guys mean well but at the end of the day, we've got to hold on to that puck. If we don't have anything in the offensive zone, bring it back. Let's get a change. Let's keep their guys on the ice."
The Sabres got two big breaks on the injury front in the morning when they learned that St. Louis would be playing without two stalwarts. Winger Jaden Schwartz is out six weeks after taking a shot to the ankle Saturday in Detroit and No. 1 defenseman Alex Pietrangelo sat out the game with what Blues coach Mike Yeo termed "bumps and bruises" that also accumulated Saturday.
The Sabres didn't take advantage. Brayden Schenn scored 40 seconds into the game and the Blues were cruising through 40 minutes with a 2-0 lead. Things started to change early in the third period when Rodrigues scored a power-play goal on a Kane feed at 1:42.
"That's what we said in the second intermission," Rodrigues said. "We knew it was only a two-goal lead. One goal and it changes the whole game. We got it pretty early and kept taking it to them."
"That's what we wanted to do," Eichel said. "Get one and go from there."
Lehner kept his team in the game, including the big save on Tarasenko a few seconds before he went to the bench for an extra attacker. He was only there for a few ticks before Rodrigues banged home a blocked shot by Marco Scandella to tie the game with 1:27 left in regulation.
"In the first couple periods we gave them a little bit too much respect," said Rodrigues. "Obviously they're a good team but we let them make plays and let them have the puck. In the third we played a little bit more free. We knew we had to take it to them, we had nothing to lose and that's when we play our best."