BUFFALO – The game, a 5-2 shellacking from the heavyweight Boston Bruins after the Sabres celebrated captain Kyle Okposo’s 1,000th NHL appearance, was bad enough.
But they also lost top center Tage Thompson on Tuesday to an upper-body injury coach Don Granato said will probably sideline their most dynamic scorer “significant time.”
Thompson, 26, left the game just over 11 minutes into the second period after blocking Charlie McAvoy’s shot with his left hand or wrist while killing a penalty.
The Sabres, who fell to 7-8-1 this season, will likely feel Thompson’s absence. Their offense has struggled much of the season and lacked secondary contributions. In their last two games, they’ve mustered just two goals.
Following a slow start, Thompson caught fire, scoring five goals and 11 points in a nine-game stretch entering Tuesday. He enjoyed a career-season last year, registering 47 goals and 94 points.
He can’t be replaced. The Sabres must rely on others, including centers Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt, to fill the massive void.
Right now, the Sabres are also playing without wingers Alex Tuch, who has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury, and Jack Quinn, who tore his Achilles tendon early in the summer.
“(Cozens and Mittelstadt) have a track record of responding to adversity and challenge and this is a much greater challenge now presented to them and to us as a group,” Granato said. “Obviously, we’re down Quinn, we’re down Tuch, we’re down Thompson. The hope is to get Tuch back, but at the center position specifically, Mittelstadt and Cozens will need to rise in this situation.”
Thompson departed Tuesday’s game twice. Almost five minutes into the first period, he suffered a cut, according to Granato, on his left left foot or leg as he skated into the left circle and fell down. He returned for the start of the second period.
The Bruins seized control long before then, opening up a 2-0 lead by the 4:09 mark as they improved to 12-1-2 this season.
Heinen opened the scoring at 3:01 before superstar David Pastrnak scored his 11th goal. The Bruins had three shots on goal.
The Sabres trailed 3-0 at the end of the first period, drawing boos from some of the 14,840 fans in KeyBank Center
“It was a tough one,” Okposo said of the first period. “It just seemed like everything was going in and we didn’t play that bad. It was just we weren’t creating second opportunities and Linus (Ullmark) played really well over there in the first. They capitalized on their opportunities and that was kind of it. Then it was hard to take back that momentum.
“That’s a team, that’s a confident bunch over there, they’re a mature group. They’ve been doing it for a long time and they just took advantage of feeling confident, feeling good. They smelt a little bit of weakness on our part and they exploited it.”
The bottom half of the Bruins’ lineup buoyed them Tuesday, as four players – Danton Heinen, Brandon Carlo, Oskar Steen and Hampus Lindholm – scored for the first time this season.
The Sabres trailed 5-0 before winger Victor Olofsson, who began the night with zero goals this season after scoring 28 times last year, scored late in the second and third periods.
“I feel like I just kind of attacked a little bit more,” Olofsson, a regular healthy scratch, said of the difference in his play Tuesday. “I kind of searched those pucks around the net. I’m kind of not just looking for open ice. I tried to just go to the net.”
After Olofsson’s first goal 15:07 into the second period, Granato replaced Devon Levi with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
“We held (pulling Levi) to give (Luukkonen) a little bit of time there after the fifth goal just to get gear and get ready,” Granato said.
Prior to the game, the Sabres honored Okposo, 35, with a special ceremony that featured an emotional video tribute from his wife, Danielle, and their four children. His family also joined him on the ice as the Sabres presented him with a painting, a collage of photos his children picked out and a silver stick.
“Tough to put into words what that video meant and just that my family was there to celebrate it with me was extremely special,” Okposo said. “Definitely super emotional seeing what the kids had to say, what my wife had to say, and all the guys, too. It was really special.”
Okposo became the 12th player to play his 1,000th game with the Sabres.