The Sabres had a sharp start to the night, outshooting the Leafs 9-1 in the opening six minutes and 16-6 overall in the first period. However, they failed to capitalize on their first power play of the night, with the Leafs’ John Tavares in the box on a slashing call.
With one minute to play in the first, Tavares found himself back in the box - this time to serve a too many men on the ice call. This time, the Sabres took advantage of the opportunity, as Jack Eichel potted his 20th goal of the season from the high slot off a pass from Sam Reinhart to make it 1-0 Buffalo.
Eichel with a power-play goal! pic.twitter.com/tK8Pp1Mu5l— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 26, 2019
While the Sabres dominated the first period, the tables turned for the middle frame.
Nearly four minutes into the second period, Tavares got his revenge, redirecting a shot from Jake Muzzin from in front of the net for a power-play goal. Although Matt Hunwick was trying to tie up Tavares, his stick remained free for the tip.
Moments later, Auston Matthews potted his 30th goal of the season, taking a quick shot from the side of the net after a mishandling of the puck by the Sabres’ Evan Rodrigues near the net. Just like that, in a span of 1:36, the Leafs were up 2-1... and they weren’t done yet.
Fredrik Gauthier made it a 3-1 game, again from in front of the net. He picked up the puck and made a quick turn around Sabres forward Johan Larsson to score his first goal in 23 games. With that, the Sabres pulled an angry Carter Hutton. who allowed three goals on 12 shots, including three goals on six shots in the second period, for Linus Ullmark.
Ullmark made several incredible saves, but former Sabres forward Tyler Ennis made a nice move on a breakaway and tucked the puck up over Ullmark’s glove to make it 4-1 with just under seven minutes to play in the second period.
The Sabres picked things up with just under three minutes left in the second period. Buffalo was able to get Toronto moving, and quick puck movement and sharp passes led to a sharp pass from Jeff Skinner to Reinhart across the crease. Reinhart’s 18th goal of the season came on the 5-on-3 advantage and made it 4-2.
Reinhart with the finish! pic.twitter.com/jT3vrh8j0I— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 26, 2019
Eichel took charge early in the third period, picking up the puck on the wall and skating in by himself, shooting it top corner just ten seconds in to cut the Leafs’ lead to one.
Captain Jack at it again!— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 26, 2019
Ten seconds into the third period, Eichel makes it 4-3. pic.twitter.com/609jqYLeKm
As the minutes on the clock ticked away, the Sabres were still unable to get the equalizer despite a number of chances and a late power play opportunity.
Things only got worse for Buffalo with 2:18 left when Rasmus Dahlin was unable to keep the puck in the zone. As Dahlin fell to keep the puck in, it remained loose (and appeared to come off a ref) and Kasperi Kapanen beat Rasmus Ristolainen on the 1-on-1 to make it 5-3 with a shorthanded tally.
In the end, the Sabres went 2-for-5 on the power play. On the plus side, they had only seven giveaways, to Toronto’s 16. Ullmark had 19 saves, and Ristolainen led all skaters from both teams with 26:11 ice time.
But in the end, the Sabres just couldn’t finish the comeback, and it cost them two points.
Note: newcomer Brandon Montour joined the Sabres in Toronto, but was held out of the lineup. He’s expected to make his debut with the team on Tuesday in Philadelphia. Marco Scandella and Kyle Okposo both returned to the lineup after missing the last four games.