Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has started nine straight games. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres, UPL can’t hold late lead against Jets; Buffalo scratches Erik Johnson with trade deadline approaching

BUFFALO – Don’t blame Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Sure, the Sabres goalie probably wants the tying and go-ahead goals back. Coach Don Granato said the Finn usually makes routine saves on those plays.

But Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, a game the Sabres led 2-1 after two periods, had nothing to do with Luukkonen, who started his second game in as many nights.

“He’s been great for us,” said Granato, whose Sabres were 19-0-1 when leading after two periods this season. “And I don’t fault him for this one at all.”

The Sabres’ penchant for mistakes and inability to win battles cost them. The Jets, who scored five third-period goals in Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, exploited it all.

“Where we had moments to elevate … and compete and work-ethic battles, we didn’t consistently enough,” Granato said. “And we didn’t play efficient if we weren’t going to do that enough.”

Fresh off Saturday’s 7-2 shellacking of the Vegas Golden Knights at home, the Sabres never reached that same pace against the Jets.

“We had some spurts where we elevated determination and fight,” Granato said following just the Sabres’ fourth loss in the last 11 games. “I think our guys fought fatigue. But you either find a way to fight through it or find a way to be more efficient. … I don’t think we pressured pucks enough. And when we didn’t, we weren’t smart enough filling the right areas.”

“We were on occasion early and throughout the game, but the last 10 minutes, obviously, the dam broke there.”

Josh Morrissey tied the game at 2 10:38 into the third period, beating Luukkonen from the bottom of the left circle as the goalie slid backwards.

“It’s one of those it just somehow gets through you,” Luukkonen said. “I kind of missed my post, so I get sliding backwards, and that’s usually when that stuff happens, when you have momentum backwards. You’re kind of not compact enough, I guess, when you’re sliding backwards. I, for sure, should’ve played it better.”

Morgan Barron’s shot from above the right circle as he zoomed into the zone put the Jets up 3-2 at 13:55 before the crowd of 14,171 fans in KeyBank Center. Luukkonen said the shot beat him cleanly.

It appeared Luukkonen, the Sabres’ workhorse, was due for some well-deserved rest Sunday. NHL goalies, of course, rarely start games on consecutive days.

But Granato said Saturday he would consider playing Luukkonen again. He faced just 24 shots against Vegas, including a limited number of scoring chances, so Granato utilized him for the ninth straight game.

“I felt great,” said Luukkonen, who has started 19 of the last 21 games. “… I felt I was ready for it.”

Luukkonen, who made 31 saves, said he has played on back-to-back days before.

“It’s not something I’m not familiar with,” he said. “Any start I can get I’ll take.”

Sabres winger JJ Peterka’s power-play goal opened the scoring 17:33 into the game before Nino Niederreiter tied it at 19:54. Winger Eric Robinson put the Sabres back up 9:20 into the second period, ending a 24-game goal drought.

Vladimir Namestnikov and Sean Monahan scored empty-net goals for the Jets.

The Sabres made no lineup changes against the Jets, meaning veteran defenseman Erik Johnson, 35, sat out his third straight game.

The trade deadline, of course, is Friday, and the Sabres appear to be protecting an asset.

“We’re not going to make any changes on defense,” Granato said prior to the game. “… The time of year is part of the equation on that. … We all know the unique time of year it is.”

Notes: Peterka’s goal, his 20th, tied him for the team lead with winger Jeff Skinner. The Sabres have scored at least one power play goal in five straight games. … Defenseman Connor Clifton, who left Saturday’s game after a puck hit him in the face, played with a jaw protector. … Jets star Mark Scheifele gave Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin a cheap shot in the second period by slashing him across the back of the left leg. No penalty was called. … Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons’ assist on Robinson’s goal was his first this season to go along with seven goals.

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