Brandon Montour looked around the crease with an expression of disbelief. The Buffalo Sabres' defenseman did not understand how he could have tight coverage on Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, only to see the puck in the back of his net.
Montour would learn moments later that a centering pass went off Matthews' skate and over the goal line to tie the score, and the Sabres' luck only worsened Wednesday night.
Despite remarkable goaltending from Carter Hutton, the Sabres were plagued by bad luck and poor defense in a 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs in KeyBank Center, continuing a few ugly trends.
Buffalo (31-33-9) has not won back-to-back games since Dec. 13, lost for the 14th time in 17 games and was swept in a season series by Toronto (44-25-5) for the first time since 1987. Additionally, the Sabres lost their fifth game in a row to the Maple Leafs – their longest losing streak since 1971-72.
Auston Matthews and John Tavares scored their 35th and 41st goals of the season, respectively, for Toronto, which had lost four of its previous five games. Mitch Marner scored a goal only 22 seconds into the third period, and Zach Hyman added an empty-netter with 32.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Sabres, who defeated St. Louis in a shootout on Sunday, broke the scoreless tie with Casey Mittelstadt's power-play goal in the first period, and Alex Nylander, whose brother, William, is a winger for the Maple Leafs, scored his second career NHL goal to cut the deficit to 3-2 at 5:37 into the third period.
Hutton made 41 saves, as the Sabres were outshot, 46-24.
Opening salvo: The Sabres were out-shot 19-7 in the first period but led 1-0 after 20 minutes, thanks to Mittelstadt's 11th goal of the season. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin shot a puck off the end boards that bounced right to Mittelstadt, whose quick shot surprised Maple Leafs goalie Garret Sparks for a power-play goal at 15:04 into the game.
Another milestone: With a primary assist on Mittelstadt's goal, Dahlin has 39 points this season, passing Bobby Orr for the second-most points by an 18-year-old defenseman in NHL history. Dahlin trails only Phil Housley, who had 57 points in 1982-83.
Unusual first period: Toronto had 14 more shot attempts than Buffalo in the first period and shots were 17-2 in favor of the Maple Leafs, when Johan Larsson was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway with 8:21 remaining. William Nylander hit the post earlier in the first period, and Hutton made a spectacular save to stop Kasperi Kapanen's backdoor chance with less than five minutes into the game.
Puck luck: The Maple Leafs tied the score, 1-1, at 1:43 into the second period when Andreas Johnsson made a backhanded centering pass to the crease and the puck ricocheted off Matthews' skate before crossing the goal line.
Bad bounce: Nylander ripped a wrist shot from the high slot and the puck hit the post, bounced off Jack Eichel's knee and into the crease, where Tavares tapped it in for a 2-1 lead with 1:28 left in the second period.
Uneven second: Hutton made 36 saves through the first 40 minutes, as the Sabres were outshot, 19-8, during the second period. Housley shuffled his lines and defensive pairings in an attempt to spark his offense.
Lineup: Housley utilized the same lines as the Sabres' 4-3 win over the Blues last Sunday, scratching Jason Pominville, Scott Wilson and Matt Hunwick. Jake Gardiner, Frederik Gauthier and Tyler Ennis remained out for the Maple Leafs.
Next: The Sabres are scheduled to practice Thursday ahead of a game Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens in the Bell Centre.