Despite battling back from a two-goal deficit, the Buffalo Sabres fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime by a score of 5-4.
The loss overshadows a fine night from Jack Eichel, who notched his first career hat trick and became the first Sabres player to record three goals at the KeyBank Center since Thomas Vanek on April 5, 2011.
“It stings, for sure,” Eichel said. “You get the building into it. The crowd’s going. It would have topped off a great night.”
Sabres coach Phil Housley gave credit to his players for finding the energy to rally and tie the score late in the game while playing their fifth game in eight nights.
“It’s tough to lose in overtime,” Housley said. “I thought it was a great effort on our guys’ part because it easily could have gone in the other direction. For the most part, we played a really, really good game.
“It’s just those little details, and I continue to talk about it, our play without the puck. It’s that urgency that something bad could happen – and it did.”
After a first period which saw each team serve multiple penalties, the Hurricanes struck first on a goal midway through the second stanza of play by Justin Williams. 30 seconds later, Buffalo answered back with Eichel’s first goal of the night – a backhand past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward on a rebound attempt that was created by shots from Jake McCabe and Evander Kane.
The third period provided most of the fireworks for each team, however. Jake McCabe gave the Sabres a 2-1 lead 1:20 into the period, but a short while later, Staal batted a rebound out of the air and into the net to tie the game. Slightly more than a minute passed before Derek Ryan made the score 3-2, and Elias Lindholm added a goal of his own to increase the Hurricanes’ lead to two.
But Eichel wouldn’t quit. Nearly three minutes later, Eichel beat Ward with a wrist shot from the high slot to pull the Sabres within one. Just ten seconds later, Eichel completed his hat trick by being patient, getting Ward to make the first move and flicking a shot top shelf.
“I felt good,” Eichel said. “I felt like I had jump. I was just trying to use my speed, shoot the puck and create for our team.
“You don’t really ever go into a game saying that you’re going to try and get a hat trick. You always want to just help your team try and win the game and just take what the game gives you, try and do the things that make you successful. I thought I was shooting it pretty well.”
Housley noted that Eichel’s play was a product of his center using his physical gifts to his advantage.
“He was just using his speed, especially through the neutral zone,” Housley said. “Something must have triggered, because he started shooting the puck, even coming down off a bad angle.”
In overtime, Kane had a glorious chance at ending the game on a breakaway, but his attempt to deke around Ward was thwarted on a fine save by Carolina’s netminder.
“We’ve done a good job of battling back in the third period and not quitting, but at the end of the day it’s not good enough,” Kane said. “I’m a big reason why it’s not good enough.
“It was a s****y attempt. I should know better. The ice is not very good in overtime. I’ve got to fire the puck and put it away.”
Jaccob Slavin ended the contest by wristing a shot past Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson 2:15 into the extra period of play. Yet despite the loss, Eichel did see some positive signs in his team’s play.
“We think we’re never out of games, and that’s been the case this year,” Eichel said. “There’s some things that we obviously have to get better at in our D-zone. We did some things, and obviously as a group we all want to get better.
“It’s not good enough to get a point. It seems like that’s been the reoccurring theme here as of late… we’ve had good effort and put ourselves in games and had opportunities to win and we’re coming out with overtime losses.”