TORONTO — Phil Housley is sick of losing, no matter the opponent. He made that abundantly clear Saturday afternoon when asked about the Buffalo Sabres potentially losing four straight games to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs for the first time since 1972.
Housley responded to the question with the cliche of wanting to focus on the next game, not the Sabres' previous three losses to their bitter rival. However, the problems that have plagued his team against the Maple Leafs reared their ugly head hours later in Scotiabank Arena.
Two defensive breakdowns cost the Sabres two goals against in the second period, and the Maple Leafs held on for a 5-2 win. More important than a four-game skid against Toronto, the Sabres (30-27-8) failed to generate any momentum after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night and have not won back-to-back games since Dec. 13.
John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, Nic Petan, Nikita Zaitsev and Mitch Marner scored for Toronto (40-21-4), which suffered its most lopsided loss of the season, a 6-1 defeat, Thursday against the New York Islanders. Petan broke a 2-2 tie with his goal at 15:02 into the second period, and Zaitsev's shot went off Brandon Montour's skate and in for a 4-3 lead a little over four minutes later.
Jason Pominville and Conor Sheary scored one minute, 34 seconds apart to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead in the first period. Linus Ullmark made 27 saves while starting games on back-to-back days for the first time this season.
Opening salvo: Ullmark made an outstanding save on Marner's tip near the slot, only for Tavares to jam the rebound over the goal line for a 1-0 lead at 4:20 into the first period.
94 seconds: Pominville capitalizes on a loose puck in the crease for his 15th goal of the season with 14 minutes left in the first period.
Kyle Okposo then broke the puck out of the Sabres' zone by shooting it high into the air. The puck bounced into the Leafs' zone, where Sheary gained possession and beat Frederik Andersen with a quick shot from the slot. Sheary has six points in his last five games, including three goals in the past two games.
Late response: Toronto tied the score with 20 seconds remaining in the first period when Rielly's shot from the point snuck through Patrick Marleau's screen to beat Ullmark. Marleau bumped into Ullmark while Rielly wound up at the blue line, however, the Sabres chose to not challenge for goaltender interference.
Delay: In addition to a late start for the Sportsnet "Hockey night in Canada" broadcast, opening faceoff did not occur until 7:23 p.m., because an arena employee noticed a cracked pane of glass behind the Sabres' net following both anthems. A crew rushed to change the glass and tested several neighboring pieces to ensure playing conditions were safe.
Warm welcome: Tavares, the subject of disdain for Islanders fans during his return to Long Island this week, received a roaring standing ovation from the crowd during pregame introductions, which were recited in reverse order to allow the crowd to embrace Tavares, who signed with the Maple Leafs last summer.
Injury: Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe left the game with an injury in the second period and did not return.
Next: The Sabres are not scheduled to practice Sunday and will hold a morning skate Monday ahead of their game against the Edmonton Oilers, who defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-0, Saturday.