BUFFALO – Ten minutes after the Sabres’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks ended Saturday afternoon, center Ryan O’Reilly looked inconsolable.
“It’s embarrassing, pathetic and it’s not good enough,” O’Reilly said quietly.
Minutes earlier, with the Sabres down three men and clinging to a 2-1 lead, O’Reilly had nearly sealed the game, narrowly missing an empty net from his own blue line.
The Blackhawks then seized their fresh opportunity during a frantic finish, getting the tying goal from superstar Patrick Kane with 34 seconds left in regulation.
“It looked pretty good all the way down the ice,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said about O’Reilly’s attempt. “It just sneaks wide. They come back and get one right at the end there.”
Just one second remained on the power plays when Kane scored.
“We almost had it,” Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said.
Almost doesn’t cut it for O’Reilly.
“It’s about results,” he said.
Kane’s shootout goal later secured the win before the 18,870 fans inside the First Niagara Center.
“We went right to the bitter end of that one,” Bylsma said. “I thought we did a great job.”
With a six-day Christmas break, the Sabres don’t play again until next Saturday in Boston. The loss might linger for a few days.
“I’m not going to lie, it hurts,” Bylsma said.
Still, the Sabres, a team climbing out of a two-year rebuild, showed more progress against the defending Stanley Cup champion.
O’Reilly’s goal with 3:40 left put them up 2-1, setting the stage for one of the wildest finishes here in recent memory.
But two penalties with 3:33 left doomed the Sabres. Josh Gorges went off for holding. Rasmus Ristolainen was whistled for high-sticking, his first penalty this season and in 43-games going back to March 20.
The Sabres hadn’t been penalized all game. Naturally, the crowd booed mercilessly.
Bylsma had an issue with Gorges’ call, although he refused to elaborate.
Without their top defensemen, the Sabres’ nearly killed off the Blackhawks’ lethal attack. When goalie Corey Crawford skated to the bench with about 90 seconds left, they had a rare six-on-three advantage.
“We should’ve won that game,” Gorges said. “That doesn’t mean anything now, and it’s frustrating because I feel like I let my teammates down putting our team in that position with two minutes left to go in the game, can’t give them those opportunities. They’re a good hockey team. We should’ve closed this game out with the 2-1 lead.”
Sabres winger Tyler Ennis added: “One second. … That’s what good teams do, they find a way to win. We’re close.”
Franson was penalized before the Kane goal, so the Sabres began overtime down a man.
O’Reilly started the shootout by missing.
“That’s not leadership,” O’Reilly said about his miss. “You have to close that. It’s not acceptable.”
Crawford’s stop on struggling winger Zemgus Girgensons, who has only two goals, cemented the win.
Why did Bylsma use Girgensons and not, say, Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart – two young centers with better skills who created goals earlier?
Bylsma said Girgensons has better shootout numbers than Eichel and Reinhart hasn’t impressed him during shootout practice.
The Sabres played well early, shutting down Kane and captain Jonathan Toews.
“That’s a very high-end team over there, and I thought we gave them a good run,” Franson said.
Bylsma added: “The second and third period was probably some of the best hockey we’ve played in a long while.”
The Sabres clearly need some time off. Saturday ended a stretch of eight games in 14 days and five in eight days.
“I’m not going to deny it, (we need it),” Franson said. “We have a lot of guys with bumps and bruises. When you’ve played a lot of games in a short amount of time like that with a lot of travel, it can wear on you.”
Franson scored the Sabres’ other goal. Dennis Rasmussen opened the scoring. Sabres goalie Chad Johnson made 26 saves.