DENVER – With a long flight home, the Sabres finally had a chance to exhale. If they’d gotten the opportunity during Wednesday’s game, they might have tucked another point or two into their carry-on luggage.
Buffalo gave up goals at two crucial points of the third period, allowing Colorado to snatch a 2-1 victory in Pepsi Center. The Avalanche scored the winner with 31.7 seconds left and tied the game just 32 seconds after Buffalo killed a four-minute penalty.
“We deserved at least a point out of this one,” said hard-luck loser Robin Lehner, who made 33 saves in his most effective game with the Sabres. “We battled hard. I felt like I battled hard. It’s just tough not getting a win.”
The Sabres controlled much of the play through two periods while taking a 1-0 lead and 24-15 shot advantage. They looked like they’d take over the third, too, after killing a four-minute high-sticking penalty by Evander Kane taken with 15 minutes to go.
But after holding their breath during their kill, they never got to exhale. Alex Tanguay scored with the winded short-handed skaters still on the ice.
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“We kill it off, we’re exhausted and they score,” center Ryan O’Reilly said after an unsuccessful return to his former home. “It’s just tough to get the momentum back.”
They never did. The Avs dominated the third period with an 18-5 shot edge. Lehner kept the Sabres afloat by stopping 16 of the opening 17. If the Sabres had gotten to the end of regulation, they might have let out the pent-up air and gathered themselves.
They didn’t get the chance. Francois Beauchemin’s point shot in the final minute hit Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk at the top of the crease and went by Lehner, who slammed his stick to the ice.
“We got a bit of an unlucky bounce there with 30 seconds left,” Kane said. “It’s a tough way to lose because we did a lot of good things. We played pretty sound defensively. But as much as they’re bad bounces, we can’t give those type of goals up in those situations.”
After taking off his pads, Lehner slouched back in his stall and repeatedly shook his head. He stopped several point-blank chances but is still winless in his three Buffalo starts.
“Robin had a phenomenal game,” O’Reilly said. “He made some huge saves when we weren’t playing our best in that game, kept us in and gave us a chance to win. We need to be better in front of him going forward.”
Said coach Dan Bylsma: “Robin was exceptional. He looked really good in net. It was just disappointing that a redirect by us and through us is the one that gets by him.”
The loss ended the Sabres’ two-game winning streak and dropped their record to 19-24-4. They also lost right wing Sam Reinhart to an upper-body injury late in the second period when he collided hard with the Avs’ John Mitchell.
“We’ll probably evaluate further when we get back to Buffalo what the length of it is,” Bylsma said.
The Sabres hope a short diagnosis will lead to a grateful exhale, the type they didn’t get in Colorado.
“We ended up on our heels a little bit with killing off the four-minute penalty,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “We just didn’t do a good enough job of getting back on our toes and trying to play in their end. Those are tough ones to swallow, but we did a lot of good things in this game.”