The sting for the Sabres wasn’t just the goals that didn’t count. It was what those goals would have meant.
They would have meant a much better spot in the standings.
The 4-3 loss to Dallas on Thursday kept Buffalo at 49 points, tied for the fewest in the Eastern Conference entering the All-Star break. A victory would have put them in a tie for 11th place, just five points out of a playoff spot with four games in hand.
During a season in which every point could matter, that’s a big difference.
“It’s just unfortunate that you have a chance to go into the break with four straight wins,” Jack Eichel said, “and we think we played a good game and get no points out of it.”
The Sabres headed into the weekend feeling cheated and angry. Three video reviews went against them in Dallas, including two apparent tying goals in the final nine minutes.
Buffalo’s biggest beef was a shot by Sam Reinhart that was clearly over the goal line. The NHL nonetheless termed replays inconclusive. The league provided further explanation Friday to The Buffalo News.
The referee knew the puck was in the net. What he needed to know was how and when it got there. He never got an answer, so Reinhart and the Sabres were out of luck.
Reinhart and linemate Jack Eichel both pointed to the puck in the net after Reinhart's shot with 8:54 to go. Sure enough, the puck was across the goal line when netminder Kari Lehtonen stood up. After Lehtonen kicked it back across the line, the officials went to the phones.
According to the league, no camera angle could determine when the puck entered the net. That was important because the referee had blown the play dead once the puck entered Lehtonen's gear. When the referee spoke to the video room, he wanted (and needed) to know whether they could conclusively state that the puck entered the net on the original shot.
The video officials could not determine that, so the ref's ruling that he killed the play before the puck entered the net stood.
“The puck was in the net,” Eichel said in American Airlines Center. “I mean, usually the puck goes in the net it’s a goal. It’s kind of weird how that didn’t happen.”
The officials certainly looked for a while. It was an extraordinarily lengthy review, going at least five minutes.
“I’ve never seen them that long," Dallas defenseman Jordie Benn said.
The Stars' game presentation crew had fun during the delay:
*A camera panned down the line of Stars Ice Girls. They all had dismayed looks on their face – and the final woman was on the floor curled up in a sleeping bag.
*The DJ played soft, melodic music, and the fans shown on the scoreboard slowly moved their arms from side to side, as if in a trance.
*Finally, just before the officials' phone call ended, Dallas shut off the scoreboard and ribbon board to save electricity.
"The fans got really funny there for a bit, and they even turned the jumbotron off because it was so long," Benn said. "But it went in our favor, so I’ll wait as long as I have to as long as it goes in our favor.”
The Sabres will wait until Tuesday for their next game. They visit Montreal to start the post-All-Star schedule.
They’ll be in better shape if they start the game quickly. Dallas had a 62-27 lead in shot attempts through two periods. Buffalo took over during the third but couldn’t tie the game.
“We dug ourselves a hole again, and we just weren’t able to get out of it,” captain Brian Gionta said.
The Sabres have sent defenseman Casey Nelson back to Rochester. He went on the two-game road trip to Nashville and Dallas but did not play because Dmitry Kulikov was back in the lineup.
Kyle Okposo, the Sabres’ lone All-Star, entered the break leading the team with 15 goals and 31 points. Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen leads the Sabres with 25 assists.
Eichel ranks in a tie for 13th in the NHL in goals per game (0.44). He has scored 12 times in his 27 games. Evander Kane is 29th in the category (0.38). After being held without a goal in his opening 12 outings, Kane has 14 goals in 25 games.
The Sabres are 24th in scoring in the NHL, averaging 2.44 goals per game. They were last at 1.8 when Eichel returned Nov. 29. Buffalo ranks 16th with 2.73 goals allowed per night.
The Sabres are giving up 33.3 shots per game; only Arizona is worse at 33.4. Buffalo is tied for 17th with 29.6 shots taken.
With a 20-19-9 record, the Sabres’ points percentage of .510 ranks tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference and 21st in the NHL. They usually enter the third period in a hole. They have the third-most wins while trailing after two (five), but they also have the eighth-most losses (17).