BUFFALO – Sabres goalie Eric Comrie sounded somber trying to explain Monday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Their two-game winning streak had ignited hope that perhaps they could make a late-season climb toward the second wild card spot that seemed so unlikely a week ago.
A victory over the Canadiens at KeyBank Center would’ve moved the Sabres to within one point of the struggling Florida Panthers and four points of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who own that coveted last playoff spot.
After blowing a third-period lead, rookie winger Jack Quinn scored in the fourth round, putting them a save away from winning the shootout and defeating the Eastern Conference’s 15th-ranked team.
Comrie just needed to stop Jesse Ylonen to preserve the victory.
“I thought I stopped it,” Comrie said of Ylonen’s shot that trickled under his left pad. “… That’s just hockey sometimes. It (stinks). You think you’re inches away from winning and you lose.”
Michael Pezzetta beat Comrie in the sixth round, securing Montreal’s win before the bipartisan crowd of 16,435 fans.
“We battle hard every single night,” said Comrie, who started his second straight game. “I respect the hell out of these guys. They work hard every single night. They truly give it their all. I love playing for these guys. It’s unfortunate. That’s a tough one to swallow tonight. That’s a really tough pill to swallow.”
The loss, the Sabres’ 25th at home (14-20-4), spoiled the NHL debut of winger Lukas Rousek.
In the Sabres’ 53-year history, only a handful of rookies have enjoyed a debut like Rousek’s. He scored 3:49 into the game, beating goalie Jake Allen after center Tyson Jost’s slap pass bounced off to the end boards to him at the left side of the net. He later earned the secondary assist on defenseman Riley Stillman’s goal.
“Great, great,” Sabres coach Don Granato said of Rousek. “He’s got a feel for the game. Obviously, he knows us, he knows our systems, he knows what he’s doing. … Very good game.”
Rousek, 23, became the seventh Sabres player to record two points in his debut and the first since Maxim Afinogenov on Nov. 10, 1999. He’s the fifth Sabres player in the last 10 years to score in his first game.
The Czech played Monday because the upper-body injury leading scorer Tage Thompson suffered Friday forced him to miss his first game this season. The center managed to play in Saturday afternoon’s 2-0 road win over the New York Islanders.
He’s officially day to day. The Sabres don’t play again until Friday, so they figured the rest would help him.
“He’s played with an injury and it’s not conducive to helping it heal,” Granato said.
Winger Vinnie Hinostroza just returned to the Sabres following several days away and wasn’t ready to play Monday. Meanwhile, winger Jordan Greenway (upper body) missed his fourth straight game.
So Rousek, who was scratched Saturday, played after being summoned Monday morning, his second recall in three days. He enjoyed his customary solo lap prior to first warm-up – “It was a pretty amazing,” he said – before skating at left wing beside Jost and Victor Olofsson.
Casey Mittelstadt moved up from that line to center the top trio between Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch.
Montreal’s Jordan Harris opened the scoring 1:22 into the game. After Rousek tied it, Alex Belzile put the Canadiens up 2-1 4:28 into the second period.
Sabres winger JJ Peterka’s power-play goal knotted it again at 5:49, bouncing the puck off Allen’s shoulder from below the goal line.
The Sabres grabbed their first lead at 8:31, getting a nifty goal from Riley Stillman, his first with Buffalo and this season. Stillman took Olofsson’s pass at the left point, zoomed in and tucked the puck past Allen.
Comrie, who stopped 36 shots, hadn’t started back-to-back games since early November.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “The guys played so hard for me on Saturday. They played really hard in New York. They were awesome and I was just happy to get back in there tonight and do what I could to help us get two points. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do it.”