BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — If the Sabres fail to end their playoff drought this season, letdowns like the one they had Tuesday night will be looked back upon with lament.
A three-game win streak that put Buffalo on solid ground in the postseason race was halted with a 5-3 loss against Columbus, the last-place team in the Eastern Conference, before a crowd of 13,661 at KeyBank Center.
“You’re not going to win every game, you’re going to have ups and downs still, and you’ve got to win two out of three coming down the stretch,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “There were a few big wins, now we’ve got to put it behind us and go win some more games. That’s the only thing. You’re going to hit adversity and it’s how you deal with it.”
Tage Thompson scored his 41st goal and became one of the five fastest Sabres to record 80 points, Jack Quinn tallied a goal and an assist in his second consecutive multi-point game on the top line, fellow rookie JJ Peterka snapped a 26-game scoreless skid with a power-play goal in the third period, but the Sabres’ were unable to come back from’ third-period push wasn’t enough to overcome falling behind 4-1 after two periods.
“It’s one of those things, too little too late,” said Sabres goaltender Craig Anderson, who made 31 saves. “They were on their heels. Maybe they came out a little casual in the third with a three-goal lead and allowed us to kind of get back into it. I think we’ve got to have that mentality from the start.”
Heading into Thursday’s game in Boston against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Sabres (31-24-4) have 64 points, three behind the Penguins for the final wild-card playoff spot, but with an additional game in hand. Buffalo has a better point percentage (.559) than the New York Islanders (.547), who are seventh in the conference with 70 points in 64 games.
The loss continued Buffalo’s struggles at KeyBank Center, where they are now 12-16-2, the second-worst home record in the Eastern Conference. Since Jan. 1, the Sabres have gone 4-8 at home. They are 10-3 on the road in 2023, and 19-8-2 this season.
Coach Don Granato surmised that the Sabres are trying too hard to make the perfect play on home ice.
“We get on the road, you’re not worried about making it perfect,” Granato said. “It’s a more direct mentality. You can add up the numbers obviously, home and road at this point of the year. I think just moving forward we just have to compete better, compete every night the same way whether it’s home or road.”
Buffalo’s defense struggled in its second game playing without All-Star Rasmus Dahlin, who is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
“For really the first time in a long time we felt we couldn’t move the puck up smoothly from our D zone. We couldn’t get a transition game,” Granato said. “It was a challenging game all the way through because we just couldn’t get any smooth transition. Obviously you miss Dahlin who’s exceptional at that, but other guys didn’t look like themselves in that area.”
Thompson scored his league-leading 19th first-period goal 18 seconds after the Blue Jackets took the lead in the opening minutes. It extended Thompson point streak to a career-best seven games. Thompson reached the 80-point mark in the season’s 59th game. Only Pat LaFontaine (42 games in ’92-93, and 49 games in ’91-92), Alexander Mogilny (47 games in ’92-93) and Gilbert Perreault (56 games in ’74-75) have been faster to 80 points. Rene Robert also reached the mark in 59 games in ’74-75.
Eric Robinson led Columbus with his first career hat trick, sealing the victory and defusing the Sabres’ rally with an empty-net goal in the final minute. Boone Jenner and Kent Johnson also scored for a Columbus team that won its league-low seventh road game of the season. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 39 shots and added an assist for the last-place Blue Jackets, who are already looking ahead to next season by offloading pending free agents before the NHL trade deadline Friday.
Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.