TORONTO -- A 10-game win streak kept the Buffalo Sabres in contention, and their playoff hopes brightened following remarkable performances against Tampa Bay and Washington last week.
However, the Sabres needed only two minutes, four seconds Monday night to show they still have much to correct in order to make a playoff push. That is all the time the Toronto Maple Leafs needed to score three of their four second-period goals in a 5-3 win over Buffalo in Scotiabank Arena.
The collapse prevented the Sabres (29-25-8) from winning back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 13, and they remain six points behind Carolina for the second wild-card playoff spot.
"We had seven or eight minutes of bad hockey where we let them get behind us and that was it," lamented Jack Eichel, who scored two goals.
The Maple Leafs (38-20-4) scored four of their five goals in less than 10 minutes during the second period, including a breakaway by Tyler Ennis for a 4-1 lead, and the last occurred with 2:18 remaining in regulation when Kasperi Kapanen was sprung on a breakaway by a puck ricocheting off an official's skate.
Still, the Sabres were the better team for most of the night. They outshot Toronto, 34-33, including 10-1 during the game's first eight minutes, and had several chances to tie the score in the third period.
Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen made a split save to stop Jason Pominville's chance from atop the crease midway through the period and used his left leg pad to rob Rasmus Dahlin with 2:43 remaining.
Eichel scored his 20th and 21st goals of the season, the latter of which cut the deficit to one goal nine seconds into the third period. Sam Reinhart scored a power-play goal with 2:35 left in the second period to build momentum and make a comeback possible.
The Sabres had 19 more shot attempts and one more scoring chance, yet they lost for a sixth time in eight games.
"I think we have to realize they’re going to have pushes," said Reinhart. "They have some of the best players in the world over there. We need to find a way to calm down and be composed when they do have those pushes. Try to stop the momentum as quick as possible."
The Sabres' issue continues to be the quality, not quantity, of scoring chances allowed. Buffalo's blown defensive coverages began at the start of the second period, and John Tavares broke through when he tipped Jake Muzzin's shot over Hutton's glove to tie the score 1-1 at 3:48.
Then Auston Matthews shot a puck off Hutton's glove, corraled it, and skated around the back of the net, where he passed toward the slot. The puck bounced off Evan Rodrigues' stick blade and went right back to Matthews, who was left alone to shoot into the open net for his 30th goal of the season.
Frederik Gauthier scored the Leafs' third goal in a span of 2:04 when he gathered a pass from Jake Gardiner and outmuscled Johan Larsson in front of the net before beating Hutton with a backhanded shot.
"We talked about expecting a push from them," coach Phil Housley said. "But it’s not really what they did, it’s what we didn’t do."
Hutton was promptly pulled and replaced by Linus Ullmark, a decision Housley said was to create a "spark" and "send a message." The move did not make much of a difference in the second period.
Ullmark had to make a save on a 2-on-1 odd-man rush moments later, followed by another stop on the Leafs' Zach Hyman. Toronto then created a highlight-reel chance with a drop pass to fool Rasmus Ristolainen, though Ullmark managed to use his chest to block the weak wrist shot.
"He’s been such a key part of our team this year, so you can’t really blame Hutts for some of the stuff that was happening," Eichel said of Hutton. "He’s keeping us in most games that we’re in. ... That’s on us, not Hutts."
Finally, Gauthier sprung Ennis with an outlet pass that went between Ristolainen and Ullmark, and Ennis scored on the Leafs' 15th shot in the second period's first 14 minutes.
Buffalo is still in the playoff race, despite the ongoing defensive struggles, but its grueling week continues Tuesday night with a game in Philadelphia. The Sabres are running out of time to solve the familiar problems.
"They had too many odd-man rushes in the second period and it cost us the game," Eichel said.