CALGARY, Alberta – For 40 minutes Tuesday night, the Buffalo Sabres were in position to snap the most hideous losing streak in their history.
But when it came to the third period, to winning time in what was a 1-1 game, the Sabres simply didn’t answer the call.
Buffalo didn’t have a shot on goal for the first 10 minutes of the third. Jammed in their own end, inevitability beckoned. The Calgary Flames ultimately made the Sabres pay big-time, pounding home three goals in the final 11 minutes to coast to a 4-1 win at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
The Sabres extended their franchise record by suffering their 12th straight loss in regulation, and tied their all-time mark for longest winless streak set during an 0-8-4 stretch in 1991.
The game was tied and the shots on goal were tied at 16-16 through two periods. How bad were the Sabres outplayed in the third? Calgary outshot them, 15-2, and had an incredible 28-3 advantage in shot attempts. The Flames also won 14 of 20 faceoffs.
“It’s frustrating,” said winger Chris Stewart, who opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 10:33 of the first period. “We played 40 minutes of good hockey, came out in the third and kind of just crumbled.”
“A perfect road game, a good 40 minutes for us,” said captain Brian Gionta, back in the lineup after missing 13 games. “But it just shows our fragility there to lose it mentally, kind of sitting back waiting for something bad to happen instead of going out, initiating and trying to force things.”
The Flames collected a turnover in the first 10 seconds of the period and had a pair of good scoring opportunities that Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth stopped but it set a tone. The Sabres pretty much couldn’t get out of their end the entire period. The Flames were meticulous with the puck, working it to dangerous areas and patiently waiting until they could capitalize.
It finally happened at 9:05 as Josh Jooris, a training camp surprise who had 11 goals last year in the AHL, beat Tyler Myers to a loose puck and drove it home to the right of Enroth. Joe Colborne took the initial shot and it was blocked by Mike Weber before it bounded directly to Jooris, who easily put it home for his 10th goal of the season.
Colborne jammed home a goal at 14:06, just as Weber returned from a delay of game penalty, and hotshot rookie Johnny Gaudreau added insurance with second goal of the night with 2:32 to play.
The Flames had the first 11 shots on goal in the third period, before Gionta finally broke through with 10:08 left. Drew Stafford had the other, with just under four minutes to play.
“They turned it up a notch and once they turned it up, we just couldn’t keep up with them in the third period,” said coach Ted Nolan. “When you’re going through what we’re going through, it takes a real mental toughness to overcome and try to persevere through it.”
It was the opener of the Sabres’ four-game roadie after the All-Star break. It continues Thursday in Edmonton, which suffered a 2-1 loss Tuesday to Minnesota and remained two points ahead of Buffalo in the battle for last place in the NHL’s overall standing.
Calgary, meanwhile, was kicking off a stretch where 10 of its next 12 games are at home. The Flames pushed three points ahead of Los Angeles in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
The teams traded power-play goals in the first period, with Stewart tallying for Buffalo and Gaudreau answering for the Flames. Despite some good chances, neither team scored in the second period.
“Sometimes when you’re in the storm, you don’t see where you’re heading,” Nolan said. “... You look at the Chicago Blackhawks. They didn’t become the Chicago Blackhawks overnight. They had a lot of miserable years in order to get where they are. Pittsburgh did the same thing. We’re going through that rebuild phase and we’re going to hit some nasty storms.”
The third period Tuesday would certainly classify as a big one and it overshadowed the Sabres’ good start.
Buffalo went to the power play at 10:20 of the first as Colborne went off for hooking and it took just 13 seconds for the Sabres’ much-maligned man-advantage unit to connect. Stewart parked himself in the slot and used a Thomas Vanek-like deflection to redirect a Tyler Ennis pass past a surprised Hiller.
Strangely enough, it marked the third straight game the Sabres power play has connected after a 1-for-18 stretch the previous seven games. Only once before this season, Dec. 15 against Ottawa and Dec. 16 against Winnipeg, had Buffalo scored with the man advantage in consecutive outings.