NEW YORK – The emotions on the Buffalo Sabres’ bench teetered between disappointment and elation in front of 17,256 fans inside Madison Square Garden.
In a span of five minutes, five seconds during the second period Sunday night, the Sabres experienced a 10-bell, bail-out save by goalie Aaron Dell, an official immediately ruling no goal on Cody Eakin tipping a shot into the New York Rangers’ net and four goals between the two teams, including two by Buffalo.
An emotional roller coaster in a loud environment on the road isn’t ideal for a younger team playing its first of five games in seven days.
The chaos didn't end there, and the Sabres were on the wrong side of the final dramatic moment.
With the Sabres attempting to hold the puck along the wall to take the game into overtime, the Rangers’ Adam Fox pried it away to set up the winning goal by defenseman Ryan Lindgren with 0.4 seconds remaining, sending Buffalo to a crushing 5-4 loss.
“That obviously shouldn’t happen,” lamented Sabres winger Victor Olofsson. “I think we should be able to keep that puck on the wall or just get rid of it. That’s a tough way to lose the game.”
The Sabres (7-8-2) fell to 2-5-1 on the road and they’re 2-7-1 in their last 10 games, including a last-second loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs only eight days earlier.
The result spoiled an encouraging performance by the Sabres, who were dismantled by the Calgary Flames, 5-0, at home on Thursday. Again, Buffalo didn’t play well enough in the third period of a close game, totaling only four shots on goal against goalie Igor Shesterkin. Coach Don Granato said “hesitation” was apparent, which allowed the Rangers to take control.
“We need to be assertive,” said Granato. “When we struggled in the third, we hesitated, maybe took a step back. … These situations that happened to us in the last few days, when you’re not getting what you want, you tend to be more hesitant, and we can’t have that happen.”
Yet, the Sabres were still in position to earn a point after they showed resilience in the second period.
In past seasons, particularly in 2020-21, the Sabres wouldn’t react well if an opponent scored twice in a span of four minutes, four seconds to take its first lead of the game. That’s what occurred when Jacob Trouba scored on a scramble in front to tie it 2-2 during a delayed penalty. Then the Sabres failed to pressure Kappo Kakko as the Rangers winger skated down the right circle and unleashed a wrister to beat Dell to make it 3-2 at 12:07 into the second period.
Only 50 seconds later, Sabres center Tage Thompson scored his team-best sixth goal of the season when he skated down the left circle and toward the net before firing a shot over the glove of Alex Georgiev, who was screened by John Hayden. Buffalo needed only 15 seconds to regain the lead, as Rasmus Dahlin’s slap shot went over the outstretched glove hand of Georgiev to make it 4-3.
The Rangers then tied it, 4-4, 17 seconds later with K’Andre Miller’s slap shot. The four goals in a span of 1:22 were the fastest in an NHL game since March 21, 2017. The four game-tying goals through 40 minutes are tied for the most in a game this season.
“That was a pretty crazy sequence in that game,” recalled Olofsson.
Rasmus Asplund, who opened the scoring in the first period, said, “I mean, that was fun. A lot of fun.”
New York (11-4-3) replaced Georgiev with Shesterkin for the third period, but the Sabres were in survival mode. Dell stopped the first 12 shots he faced, including a highlight-reel glove save on a tip by Filip Chytil with 8:58 remaining.
Thompson had the puck protected along the wall with seven seconds left, but three Sabres didn’t cover the front of the net or apply enough pressure to support the play. Fox dug the puck out and, with multiple Sabres out of position, got it to Mika Zibanejad, who made the touch pass to a wide-open Lindgren skating to the far post. With 0.04 seconds, it’s tied for the latest regulation game-winning goal in Sabres history.
“I think everybody in the building knew the scenario and the clock, the situation,” said Granato. “We were no longer in a situation to score a goal, so the primary focus should have been on being in a defensive posture to make sure we didn’t get scored against and we gave up some inside position there, obviously. It’s unfortunate and the only thing you can do is learn from it.”
Here are other observations from the game Sunday night:
1. Getting healthy
Olofsson returned from his eight-game injury absence despite not practicing with the team and contributed on Dahlin’s goal, winning a battle along the boards to earn the assist for his 10th point in nine games this season. Olofsson finished with 17:02 of ice time.
“I felt OK,” said Olofsson. “The timing, the legs were a little bit off in the beginning, but I think got better through the game and I felt pretty good.”
2. Better start
The Sabres struck first at 15:53 into the game, when Kyle Okposo placed a wrist shot on net with Zemgus Girgensons in front of Georgiev. Girgensons got his stick on the puck, but it was Asplund who skated in front and scored a power-play goal on the rebound for a 1-0 lead. Vinnie Hinostroza also scored for Buffalo.
The Rangers were gaining momentum when Jacob Bryson took a bad interference penalty behind the Buffalo net. The lead stood until Chris Kreider tied it with a short-side one-timer shot that beat Dell on the power play with 23 seconds remaining in the first period.
3. No goal
Eakin appeared to give the Sabres a 3-2 lead at 8:59 into the second period when he tipped Mark Pysyk’s shot, but the official immediately waved it off because of what he deemed goalie interference. It appeared that Granato tried with no success to challenge the call during a conversation with the official but would not discuss details about that talk following the game.
4. By the numbers
The Rangers outshot the Sabres for the game, 36-22, and had a 14-1 edge in 5-on-5 scoring chances in the third period, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. … Dahlin led the Sabres in ice time (26:58) and shots on goal (4). … Thompson and Dahlin each had two points.
The Sabres host the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 p.m. Monday in KeyBank Center, followed by home games on Wednesday against Boston and Montreal on Friday.