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Marred by inconsistency, sinking Sabres unravel again in 'unacceptable' loss

Jason Pominville has seen the exhausting lows of a last-place finish and the exhilarating highs of a run to the Eastern Conference Finals while playing more than 1,047 career NHL regular-season games.

Yet, the 36-year-old Buffalo Sabres winger had never experienced the horror of what occurred Monday night in KeyBank Center.

With the tying goal on the blade of his stick in the third period, Pominville somehow blocked his own shot from crossing the goal line.

"I can probably take a hundred shots from that area and it might never happen, but it happened tonight," Pominville lamented after the Sabres allowed three unanswered goals in a 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

The moment symbolized what has become a season of missed opportunities for the Sabres (30-28-8), who have lost eight of their last 10 games and remain nine points back of the second wild-card spot. Now, Pominville and his teammates are in danger of becoming only the second team in NHL history to miss the playoffs in the same season in which they won 10 consecutive games.

They received a roar from the home crowd after scoring three consecutive first-period goals, only to hear boos as they left for their dressing room after the game. A myriad of mistakes allowed the Oilers to score three goals in a span of three minutes, 26 seconds during the second period, quickly obliterating Buffalo's momentum.

"You’ve got to play a full 60 minutes," coach Phil Housley said sternly. "You’ve got to check for a full 60 minutes in this league. We outshot them, we outchanced them. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have come out with two points tonight, and it’s just a little bit of defensive lapses for five minutes."

It was the second time in one week that the Sabres gave up three consecutive goals in such a short span, and neither Housley nor his players could explain the trend. Their mistakes against Edmonton (29-30-7) were familiar, though.

First, Zack Kassian one-timed Connor McDavid's cross-ice pass to cut the deficit to one goal at 16:29 into the second period. Less than three minutes later, Darnell Nurse unleashed a slap shot after he was not covered by Pominville and neither Rasmus Ristolainen nor Marco Scandella could pry the puck away from Leon Draisaitl, who made a perfect backhanded pass.

Finally, with five seconds left in the second period, Adam Larsson's shot from the right point ricocheted off Kyle Brodziak's skate and through Linus Ullmark's five hole to give Edmonton a 4-3 lead. Draisaitl opened the scoring with his 41st goal of the season by finishing a 2-on-1 pass from McDavid only 1:28 into the game.

"I wouldn't say it's [happened] nightly, but it’s happened frequently where we just give up one and we kind of go in a shell and can’t come out of it," Pominville admitted. "Then we give up another one and it’s like, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ We’ve got to be better. It’s unacceptable."

The Sabres were outshot 8-0 in the final 6:06 of the seconds of the second period. Otherwise, Buffalo outshot the Oilers, 38-19, and Housley estimated his team had double the scoring chances.

Jack Eichel scored two goals to match his career-high with 25, and Casey Mittelstadt scored in the first period on one of his season-high five shots on goal to take a two-goal lead into the second period. The Sabres' power play scored for the seventh time in eight games, and their penalty kill did not allow a shot during Edmonton's lone opportunity.

The Sabres nearly pushed the lead to three goals during a second-period power play, but Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen made two remarkable saves, including his stop on a Ristolainen slap shot.

During the third period, Jeff Skinner deflected a Ristolainen slap shot off the post and could not get to the loose puck in the crease, stretching his goalless drought to nine games. And Pominville one-timed a pass from Brandon Montour into the crease, only to backhand the puck away from the net while moving his stick in desperation.

Edmonton had only seven shots on goal in the third period, and McDavid missed an empty net to give the Sabres life. The loss was reminiscent of so many since November.

"It’s about our willingness to bounce back and be resilient," Eichel said. "I thought we showed some good compete and resiliency in the third period, but at the end of the day, this year, it’s not enough for us. When the other team gets two points and you get none – it’s tough to hang your hat on a good effort or competing."

The Sabres have only 13 wins in 41 games since their win streak ended in Tampa on Nov. 29 -- the second-fewest points in the NHL during that span -- and only 16 regular-season games remain. Housley did not blame Ullmark, who was pulled for the third period after allowing four goals on 20 shots.

Pominville had no interest in pointing the finger at coaching, either.

"It’s on us," he said. "We don’t want to blame anyone. It’s on us to be better, pull up our sleeves and regroup and try to find a way to win a couple on the road. It’s on us in the room."

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