BOSTON (AP) — The Buffalo Sabres lost their 17th consecutive game on Saturday, twice blowing a one-goal lead before Craig Smith scored with 3:50 left to snap a third-period tie and give the Boston Bruins a 3-2 victory.
The Sabres have not won since Feb. 23, tying the 18th longest losing streak in NHL history. It was just the fifth time during that span that they have managed to come within one goal.
“There’s nothing to say about that now,” said Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark, who was activated Saturday after a month on injured reserve and made 33 saves. “You’ve got to go home, recharge and come back stronger for the next one.”
Matt Grzelcyk and Nick Ritchie each had a goal and an assist, and third-stringer Daniel Vladar stopped 25 shots for Boston, which beat Buffalo for the seventh time in a row. It was the Bruins’ first victory in front of their home fans since March, 2020; the state of Massachusetts opened large arenas to fans at 12% capacity as of Tuesday.
Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo scored for Buffalo, each time giving the Sabres the lead. But Boston came back twice and took its first lead of the game when Smith came up with the puck after a scramble and knocked in the game-winner.
The Sabres pulled the goalie in the final two minutes, but gave up the advantage when Rasmus Ristolainen was called for goalie interference with 25 seconds left.
“I did not feel a panic out of the players at all,” said interim Buffalo coach Don Granato, who took over March 17 when Ralph Krueger was fired. “There was none of that. I didn’t feel like we tightened up. I didn’t feel the panic, but I didn’t feel enough assertive energy, I didn’t feel enough take-charge leadership.”
Ullmark, who was injured in the first game of the losing streak on Feb. 25, said he spent his time away trying not to think about his teammates’ struggles.
“There’s nothing that I can do to control it,” he said. “I got my mind off of it as much as possible. When you’re in it, you want to get in there and help the boys out. But I couldn’t.”
Vladar, playing in just his third NHL game, started poorly with a giveaway behind his net during a Buffalo power play just two minutes in. Reinhart intercepted the pass and slid it into the net before the goalie could get back in position.
Grzelcyk tied it midway through the second on a shot from the blue line. But Buffalo was back in front less than three minutes later when Okposo beat a Bruin to a rebound to the left of the goal and chipped it into the net.
Six minutes into the third, Charlie McAvoy made a complete circle around the net and then some before sending a centering pass off Buffalo defenseman Ristolainen’s skate. It bounced to Ritchie, who swiped it in to tie the game 2-2.
“It might sound dumb, but I’m not thinking — not overthinking I should say. Just trying to find space and make a play,” McAvoy said. “I’m just playing off my instincts. The game comes easier when I have my feet moving.”
The Sabres have been without Jack Eichel since early March and had been forced to use a fourth-string goalie, Dustin Tokarski before Ullmark returned on Saturday. Okposo missed three games with an injury.
But at least they got Granato back. The interim coach was placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols along with assistant Matt Ellis hours before the opening faceoff on Thursday, forcing general manager Kevyn Adams to man the bench against Pittsburgh.
Buffalo: Hosts Philadelphia on Monday.
Boston: Hosts New Jersey on Sunday.
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