Losing to the Montreal Canadiens created enough glum on its own. But the Buffalo Sabres had to deal with more disappointment than that Tuesday night. They had to leave the ice knowing one of their biggest goals, something they had taken immense pride in, was gone.
It took more than 2 1/2 months and an encounter with a hot goaltender and an even hotter power play, but the Sabres finally have a losing streak. The Canadiens dealt them their second straight loss, a 5-2 setback in sold-out HSBC Arena.
The Sabres were very clear from the opening day of the season that they didn't want to lose consecutive games. They were the last team to finally drop two in a row, but that was little solace.
"It's not the end of the world, but it is missing a goal of ours," Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said. "We should feel a little ticked off."
The Sabres were not only introduced to back-to-back losses, they also met two other words: division race. The second-place Canadiens moved to 5-0-1 in their past six games and are five points behind the Sabres in the Northeast Division.
"It seemed like they were uncatchable in the beginning of the year," Habs forward Chris Higgins said, "and now we're within five points."
The Sabres ran into two potent forces Tuesday. Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet stopped 42 shots, including 33 over the final two periods. Montreal also boasts the best power play in the NHL, and it scored twice in the first period to help put the Sabres in a 3-1 hole.
"The three quick goals stung us," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It took us awhile to recover."
The game just as easily could have gone the other way early. The Sabres opened as the aggressors, and they scored just 34 seconds into the game. It freed the 18,690 fans from their seats and Ales Kotalik from the shackles that had been wrapping around his psyche.
The forward hadn't scored since Nov. 17 against Pittsburgh, 14 games ago. He had been growing increasingly frustrated, and he took it out on the puck with a rocket that found the top left corner.
Kotalik raised his right hand and lowered his head, which quickly received a flurry of taps from Jaroslav Spacek and the other Sabres, who know how much the drought was weighing on Kotalik.
"Hopefully, now I'll be playing like I'm used to playing," Kotalik said.
The Sabres continued testing Huet on shift after shift in the opening 11 minutes. The Sabres took eight of the first 11 shots, but the game turned when they began heading toward the penalty box. The Canadiens and their top-ranked power play took command.
Dmitri Kalinin left for hooking with 8:31 left in the first period, and the Canadiens evened the score. Alexei Kovalev retrieved a rebound in the circle, and he hit the open net with 6:59 left. Miller was taken out of the play when Spacek nudged Saku Koivu into the goaltender.
"That gives them instant momentum," said Miller, who stopped 24 shots. "I see that as a pretty big turning point."
Three minutes later, Higgins improved Montreal's power play to an eye-popping 6 of 9 over the past two games. Maxim Lapierre knocked home a rebound Miller couldn't locate to give the Canadiens a 3-1 lead before the period was over.
Kotalik combined with Spacek to cut the deficit to one midway through the second. Kotalik delivered a hard hit on Habs defenseman Michael Komisarek behind the net, took the puck around the opposite side of the goal and spotted Spacek pinching.
The Canadiens added third-period goals by Francis Bouillon and Higgins to end any comeback hopes.
"It's a long season," Miller said. "If we're going to be a good team later on we have to prove we can roll with things and get back into it."
Canadiens 5, Sabres 2
Slap shots: Sabres lose consecutive games for first time this season ... Habs' Huet stops 42 shots ... Kotalik scores first goal in 14 games.
Fast fact: The Sabres are 7-5-1 against the Northeast Division and 17-2-1 against everyone else.
Next game: Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. Thursday in the Gaylord Entertainment Center.