BUFFALO – Forget about Wednesday’s 5-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, a game that could’ve moved the Sabres into a playoff spot. Right now, having lost No. 1 center and leading scorer Tage Thompson to an upper-body injury, they have bigger concerns.
Thompson, who’s supposed to represent the Sabres in Saturday’s NHL All-Star Game in Sunrise, Florida, left Wednesday’s contest after the second period and did not return.
The TNT broadcast showed Thompson wincing in pain late in the period.
Following the Sabres’ first regulation loss since Jan. 16, coach Don Granato said he hadn’t met with the medical team and did not have an update on Thompson, whose 34 goals and 68 points both lead the Sabres.
Granato said no decision has been made on his status for Saturday’s game.
Update: Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will replace Thompson in the game, the NHL announced this morning.
Thompson, 25, has enjoyed a breakout season, morphing into one of the NHL’s elite scorers. He ranks third in the NHL in goals and fifth in points.
The American has been nursing an upper-body that forced him to miss Monday’s practice. He also did not take any faceoffs against the Hurricanes.
Thompson is the Sabres’ only representative at the All-Star Game.
Despite falling behind 3-0 early Wednesday and getting shellacked before a crowd of 14,166 fans at KeyBank Center, the Sabres enter the break at their highest point in years. They began the night on a 5-0-2 run and just one point out of the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot.
Before the Sabres departed – they have their bye next week and don’t play again until Feb. 11 – Granato reminded his players they’re in a “very good” situation.
“They’ve earned where we’re at,” he said.
Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin said the Sabres “know we’re in it.”
“We had a long stretch now with a lot of games so it’s good to get some break and push harder when we get back,” he said. “We’ve got something good going on so we can’t really be too worried about this game. We’ve got to move on.”
When the Sabres return, they’ll be playing their most meaningful late-season games in more than a decade.
“We got to, I guess, play with that chip on our shoulder, still prove to the league that we’re a force to be reckoned with and we’re a team that’s going to be in the hunt,” said winger Alex Tuch, who scored the Sabres’ only goal in the first period.
The Sabres were hardly a force in the first period, as Sebastian Aho’s power-play goal at 2:35 put them in an early hole. Stefan Noesen and Brent Burns helped the heavyweight Hurricanes opened up a three-goal lead by the 12:47 mark.
“We collapsed early on,” Tuch said. “When you go down 3-0 against a team like that, it’s going to be impossible to come back, honestly.”
Granato, whose Sabres just completed a 3-0-1 road trip, said his players “fought it.”
“It was the first time in a while I’ve seen our guys carry frustration and start to play with frustration, which … then complicates matters even more,” he said. “Never got in a rhythm and obviously we played a very good hockey team and capable hockey team.
“They were in a rhythm coming out of last night (5-4 overtime win). But it didn’t matter who we played tonight. That result was going to be not a favorable one for lots of the reasons that were well within our control.”
After getting outshot 17-9 in the first period, the Sabres settled down a bit. Still, other than Tuch, goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and the trio of center Peyton Krebs, captain Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons, Granato said no one looked liked themselves.
“Fought it all night, fought frustration and things like that that come with it,” he said. “Then, obviously, you’re not going to be in sync when you have that. You have a couple of guys who are feeling it and then three quarters of your guys who aren’t feeling it. It was a battle all the way through.”
Derek Stepan and Jordan Martinook scored third-period goals for the Hurricanes, who are an incredible 14-1-0 in their last 15 meetings with the Sabres.