Frustration and disbelief have overstayed their welcome in Sabreland. The pestilent guests came out again Thursday night following Buffalo's 3-2 loss to Toronto.
It was evident as captain Jason Pominville angrily described another setback, the third straight. It was clear as goaltender Ryan Miller sat at his Air Canada Centre stall with his pads on, nearly every other teammate undressed and off to the showers. It came through in the shrug of Robyn Regehr, the Sabres' steadiest defender who somehow tripped to give Toronto its first lead.
"We're trying to keep a belief in here that effort equals opportunity, and opportunity is what you need in this league," Miller said. "We have to keep giving ourselves a chance. As we believe in it, it should start happening. It was a good effort.
"It's a frustrating loss. We've had some misfortunes and we've had some tough nights. I think it's more hurtful now than ever. We keep pushing forward. Hopefully, some of this frustration boils over into some really nice focus. It was a better game."
Therein lies the rub. The Sabres' effort was indeed good enough for victory. But once again, there was no "W" when the clock struck zero. The Sabres have won just once in their last six games and take a 1-4-1 record into the Christmas break. They play again Monday when Washington visits First Niagara Center.
"We wanted to end this on a pretty good note here," Pominville said. "Again, the effort was there, and the results weren't. If we keep putting efforts up like this and limit those little [mental mistakes], we're going to get on a roll here."
The Sabres did plenty of things right. They outshot the Maple Leafs, 42-31. They scored the opening goal. They rallied for a third-period tie.
They also did just enough wrong. Toronto scored twice in 62 seconds during the second period, taking the lead from a Buffalo squad that took 15 of the period's first 16 shots. The Sabres allowed Nazem Kadri to score the winning goal with 14:08 left, just four minutes after Buffalo had tied it, 2-2.
"There's crucial times in the game, and that was one of them," Regehr said. "You get the tying goal, and you want to create momentum. We let the other team come back and score very quickly."
The Sabres started slowly but came on hard. Miller kept the game scoreless with a 12-save first period, allowing Pominville to put Buffalo in front with a power-play goal midway through the second.
Before the period was over, though, Toronto had wrestled away the lead. Phil Kessel quickly followed David Steckel's rebound goal with a tap-in, made possible when he got open near the net after Regehr fell.
"I'm wearing the goat horns on this one," Regehr said. "I don't know if it was a rut or whatever it was, but by the time I got up Kessel had beaten me to the net and gets a tap-in goal. That kind of stuff, you feel awful as a player, but you can't let that kind of stuff happen. It seems to be that's the feeling around here right now. We've got to get things back on track."
Derek Roy quieted the vocal crowd of 19,473 just 1:29 into the third period, tying the game.
The Leafs' Mikhail Grabovski skated into trouble along the boards in his own zone. Pominville pushed the puck to Roy, who skated in alone on James Reimer. The center zipped a shot past Reimer's glove, then celebrated just his second goal in 17 games with a windmill fist pump.
Kadri allowed the fans to restart their taunting of Miller four minutes later. Old friend Clarke MacArthur entered the Buffalo zone and dropped a pass to Kadri. The center, with four players sagging on MacArthur, skated to the top of the circles and ripped a shot into the top left corner, Miller's glove grasping nothing but air with 14:08 to play.
"When things are going bad, you've got to play a whole 60 minutes and not give up one chance," Roy said. "Three guys went after the puck, they made a play and scored a goal. It's a matter of being smart."
The Sabres had a late power play but couldn't beat Reimer for the tying goal. Buffalo fell to 30-13-1 against the Leafs since the start of the 2005-06 season.
"We got the number of shots," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We got the chances. We got the lead. We bounced back and had a great start to the third period. We just haven't had much ricochet or have many bounces go our way."
Maple Leafs 3, Sabres 2
SLAP SHOTS: Sabres limp into Christmas break on three-game losing streak and with just one victory in last six games. ... Kadri gives Leafs lead with 14:08 to play, just four minutes after Sabres' Roy ties the game. ... Leafs' Steckel, Kessel score 62 seconds apart in second to erase Pominville's power-play goal.
FAST FACT: Thomas Vanek assisted on Jason Pominville's power-play goal, making it 28 times this season they have combined for points on the same tally.
NEXT: Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. Monday in First Niagara Center.