CALGARY, Alberta -- When either the Edmonton Oilers or Calgary Flames played in the Stanley Cup final for eight straight years from 1983-1990, a road trip to Alberta was commonly referred to as "Death Valley" for Eastern teams. Both clubs have fallen on plenty of hard times in recent seasons but the Death Valley trip has returned in the last six weeks.
The Buffalo Sabres joined several other teams in falling victim to it with Thursday's gut-wrenching 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames in Scotiabank Saddledome.
Johnny Gaudreau's goal with 4:50 left snapped a 3-3 tied and allowed the Flames to overcome a sensational third-period hat trick by Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.
Since Nov. 1, the Oilers and Flames have both beaten Philadelphia, New Jersey, Dallas, Boston and San Jose on their trips through the province. The Sabres were 4-2 losers Sunday in Edmonton and suffered their sixth straight defeat in Calgary, where they have not won since 2003.
Combined with Monday's loss in Vancouver, the Sabres finished an 0-3 road trip and have dropped three straight for the second time this season. They also slipped further on the NHL ladder into 28th place overall. Calgary, meanwhile, jumped from 28th all the way to 24th.
The Sabres were in a 2-0 hole through 40 minutes before Ristolainen scored a pair of power-play goals. Sean Monahan put Calgary ahead with 10:35 to go with his second goal of the game before Ristolainen tied it with 5:45 left by banking a shot home off Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman.
Veteran goaltender Jonas Hiller, a last-minute starter when Karri Ramo came down with the flu, blanked the Sabres through 40 minutes and earned his first win since Oct. 23. Hiller entered the game with brutal numbers (a 3.85 goals-against average and .856 save percentage). He had started only three games since then due to ineffectiveness and a lower-body injury.
Risto Rockets: Sam Bennett, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, was in the penalty box for the first two of Ristolainen's third-period goals. The first was a slapshot at 2:27 through a screen in front. The second came at 4:44, just three seconds after Bennett was sent off for tripping Jack Eichel. Ryan O'Reilly won the faceoff clean and Ristolainen beat Hiller with a quick snapshot. Ristolainen's previous two-goal game was the Nov. 7 win over Vancouver, which featured his game-winner with 17 seconds left.
Hat trick history: It was Buffalo's first hat trick since Thomas Vanek at Boston on Jan. 31, 2013. There was no immediate word about the last defenseman to get one for the Sabres.
Home cooking: The Flames won their eighth straight in the Saddledome for the first time since Feb. 23-March 27, 2013. Calgary is 9-5 at home this year but just 3-9-2 on the road.
For openers: Calgary got the game's first goal at 5:46 of the second period as Monahan jammed a loose puck in the crease ahead of a sprawling Chad Johnson. It came just 22 seconds after a Buffalo power play had ended.
Big downer: The Sabres couldn't get out of the second period down just 1-0 as Markus Granlund scored with 7.1 seconds left. He took a neat pass from Dougie Hamilton at the goal and was all alone as defenseman Zach Bogosian had vacated the slot.
A different look: Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons played his second game with a full face shield after taking a 12-stitch cut to the mouth when struck by a puck Sunday in Edmonton.
"It's definitely different," Girgensons said. "You see double sometimes when you look down. The trainers want me to wear something to protect the stitches. You don't want to split it open again...It was just the lip. could have been worse."
Girgensons said he didn't lose the puck at all in his feet during Monday's game in Vancouver but was struggling with that area during practice here Wednesday.
Bright lights: The Calgary media cluttered around Sam Reinhart after the morning skate prior to his first NHL game in the Saddledome. Reinhart had played several Western Hockey League games in the building for the Kootenay Ice and was familiar with it as the home of his father when Paul Reinhart played nine seasons for the Flames. A framed picture of Paul Reinhart vying for position against Wayne Gretzky during a 1980s Flamers-Oilers game is among those on display in the arena press roon.
Blueberry or Banana?: Reinhart entered Thursday with four goals in his last five games and coach Dan Bylsma noted his shot was the most improved aspect of his play over the first 28 games. Said the coach: "In camp, it was a muffin. He almost didn't want to take it. He's a pass-first guy but he's worked diligently on it. It's a weapon right now. He's used it pretty much every game."
Minus the famous fedora: Calgary's Bob Hartley coached in his 890th career game -- passing orginal Sabres coach and general manager Punch Imlach -- for 31st on the NHL's all-time list. Hartley, who has also coached in Colorado and Atlanta, is 11th on the active list.
Up next: The Sabres will fly home Friday morning and are scheduled to take the day off. Their run of games against the Pacific continues when division-leading Los Angeles comes to town for a game Saturday night in First Niagara Center. It's the first of five games in eight days, four at home, before the Sabres get their holiday break.