A seven-game homestand that could determine the direction of the Buffalo Sabres' season began with a thud Friday night.
The Sabres, playing their third game in four nights, nearly came back from a three-goal deficit by scoring twice in the third period, but they lost to the last-place Chicago Blackhawks, 7-3, in KeyBank Center.
Buffalo, now 25-20-6 and 3-7 over the past 10 games, failed to gain on Columbus, which was inactive Friday night and remains three points ahead for the second wild-card playoff spot.
Carter Hutton was pulled after allowing four goals on 22 shots – the second time in three starts he has not finished a game. He was hardly the only one responsible for a second consecutive loss.
The Sabres allowed three goals in the second period, including one on a breakaway by Patrick Kane only 50 seconds in. Drake Caggiula, Duncan Keith, Brandon Saad and Connor Murphy also scored for Chicago (19-24-9), which is the second-worst team in the Western Conference and entered the game with a negative-34 goal differential this season.
The Sabres managed to cut the deficit to 4-3 in the third period with Kyle Okposo's power-play goal and nearly tied the game on multiple occasions, however, Linus Ullmark was unable to stop Murphy's shot with 8:36 remaining in regulation. Kane added an empty-net goal with nearly six minutes later, and Saad also added his second of the game late in the third period.
Jack Eichel scored his 17th goal of the season with a tipped shot in the second period, and Jason Pominville again cut the deficit to two goals in the third.
Early deficit: Despite controlling play for much of the first period, the Sabres trailed 1-0 at the end of the first period. Sam Reinhart turned the puck over with a pass up the right-wing boards, and Blackhawks defenseman Gustav Forsling passed to the slot, where Caggiula stick-handled around Hutton for the goal with 1:22 remaining.
900: Kane scored on a breakaway 50 seconds into the second period to make it 2-0 after Jeff Skinner turned the puck over in the offensive zone. With the goal, Kane became the fifth U.S.-born player in NHL history to reach 900 points and the third in Blackhawks history.
Rebound: Keith made it 3-0 when he jammed his own rebound past the goal line at 5:06 into the second period.
Break through: Amid an abysmal second period, the Sabres finally broke through when Eichel tipped Rasmus Ristolainen's wrist shot past Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward to cut the deficit to 3-1 with 1:55 left in the second period.
1:34: The Blackhawks answered one minute, 34 seconds later when only Evan Rodrigues was back to defend a 2-on-1 because Rasmus Dahlin and Zach Bogosian both joined the rush. Saad scored on a pass from David Kampf. The Sabres have a negative-13 goal differential in the second period of games this season.
14-7: The Sabres outshot the Blackhawks, 14-7, during the first period and had 11 more shot attempts. Additionally, Buffalo had four high-danger scoring chances compared to Chicago's one, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
212: Pominville moved into sole possession of 11th in franchise history with his 212nd goal as a Sabre.
0-for-27: Okposo's goal, his ninth of the season, broke an 0-for-27 slump by the Sabres' power play.
300: Reinhart, drafted second overall in 2014, played in his 300th career NHL game Friday night.
Late scratch: Center Johan Larsson did not play after he participated in the Sabres' morning skate Friday and is day to day with an upper-body injury. In Larsson's absence, Zemgus Girgensons centered the fourth line with Remi Elie at left wing and Okposo on the right side.
Lineup: Sabres coach Phil Housley again changed his defensive pairings, inserting Lawrence Pilut into the lineup for the first time since before the All-Star break. Defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Matt Hunwick were healthy scratches.
Next: The Sabres are scheduled to practice Saturday in preparation for Tuesday night's home game against the Minnesota Wild.