Jack Eichel scored twice in the third period, but the Buffalo Sabres’ winless streak stretched to four with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday in KeyBank Center.
Auston Matthews scored 4:58 into overtime after Patrick Marleau tied it 14:47 into the third period. Eichel’s goals, his sixth and seventh of the season, almost gave Buffalo its sixth third-period comeback of the season.
Instead, the Sabres are now 17-8-4 with 38 points and failed to gain ground in the Atlantic Division. Toronto, 20-8 with 40 points, has won five in a row. Linus Ullmark made 25 saves, and Sam Reinhart also scored for the Sabres.
Matthews and Jake Gardiner scored to give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead after two periods. They are now 15-0 this season when leading after the first 40 minutes.
Catch and shoot: The Maple Leafs opened the scoring 8:33 into the second period on an incredible effort by Matthews, who was playing only his third game since returning from a shoulder injury. Defenseman Ron Hainsey's shot from the right circle was deflected into the air and caught by Matthews near the right post.
Matthews dropped the puck on the ice, beat Zach Bogosian behind the net and did a backhanded wraparound to beat Ullmark.
Quick answer: Following nearly two minutes of 4-on-4 hockey, Buffalo broke through when defenseman Nathan Beaulieu's shot was deflected by Reinhart and past Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen to tie the score 14:01 into the second.
Catching up: Gardiner gave the Maple Leafs the lead again with only 9.6 seconds left in the second period by collecting a backhanded pass from John Tavares and catching Ullmark out of position to make it 2-1.
No jet lag: The Sabres were playing their sixth back-to-back of the season and lost an hour when returning to Buffalo following a 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday night. Yet, they outplayed the Maple Leafs for the first 20 minutes, including a 14-7 advantage in shots.
Rasmus Ristolainen was the best player on the ice at times, including his highlight-reel scoring chance at 11:01, when he skated around Tavares and fired a wrist shot that Andersen saved with his glove. The Sabres' fourth line also was excellent when tasked with shutting down Matthews, Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen during one shift early in the period.
Shorthanded: Defenseman Casey Nelson left with an injury in the first period, limiting him to only 2:17 over three shifts in the first 20 minutes. He returned at the start of the second period, only to leave again after 22 seconds on the ice. That left the Sabres with only five defensemen.
In a pinch: This was a much better performance by the Sabres' defensemen. They struggled to get the puck through the neutral zone during the road trip, however, their passing was crisp against the Maple Leafs and they were quick to get back when Toronto made an outlet pass.
That includes Rasmus Dahlin, whose outlet pass sprung Patrik Berglund for a breakaway, but Zemgus Girgensons eventually missed the net.
Injuries: Winger Conor Sheary returned to the lineup after missing the past four games with an upper body injury, rejoining Casey Mittelstadt and Kyle Okposo on the second line. Defensemen Jake McCabe and Marco Scandella remained out of the lineup, which caused Lawrence Pilut to play his third consecutive game.
Winger Jason Pominville remains day to day and did not play for a second consecutive game after being checked from behind Friday night against the Florida Panthers.
Next: The Sabres are off Wednesday and will resume practicing Thursday. Their next game is Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers at KeyBank Center with puck drop at 1 p.m.