TORONTO - Instead of building on their recent success, the Buffalo Sabres broke down against Toronto.
The Sabres had solidified their hold on the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by staying within their system and out of the penalty box.
However, those good habits formed over a recent winning streak disappeared Tuesday night as Buffalo lost 4-3 to the Maple Leafs.
Though the Leafs failed to score on five power-play opportunities, frequent trips to the box hurt Buffalo’s chances of building any momentum.
“For the most part, our discipline with penalties and maybe with our system a little bit slipped away,”said Sabres winger Jason Pominville.“We handed them opportunities. I’m not even sure how many 2-on-1 they got, but we gave up too many and it’s tough to accept.
"Our penalties, we were disciplined our last few games and it slipped away a little bit.”
Buffalo had won three straight entering Tuesday’s tilt and had been shorthanded a total of just six times over that stretch, while allowing only two total goals.
But things changed quickly against Toronto, starting with goalie Ryan Miller letting in an uncharacteristically weak goal, as Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf beat him from well out with a shot over the glove.
Miller put the blame for a bad start squarely on his own shoulders, but Sabres winger Nathan Gerbe said the problem wasn’t in the crease.
“We gave up 2-on-1 left and right,”Gerbe said, noting Miller bounced back to make some key saves and keep the game close.“He played great. He gave us a chance to win and we didn’t capitalize on the chances we got.”
For his part, Miller thought some of the Buffalo breakdowns came because the team allowed itself to get sucked into playing Toronto’s style of game.
“They try for some of those home run plays through the neutral zone and it makes you have to skate with them and be smart,”he said.“They spread the ice out and it’s hard to work together if you let yourself get so spread out.
"You almost have to dumb it down against teams like that, you have to just absolutely settle it down and make them play a slow game and a boring game, and I don’t think we did much of that.”
The Sabres’hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the East is now down to three points over the Carolina Hurricanes, as both teams have just six games remaining. Buffalo trails the seventh-place New York Rangers by just two points and will have a chance to pull even when they host them Wednesday night.
“Big game for us against a team that didn’t play (Tuesday), a team we feel we can go after and try to catch,”Pominville said.