WINNIPEG, MANITOBA – Blake Wheeler’s third period breakaway proved to be the game winner as the Winnipeg Jets stopped Buffalo’s eight-game point streak with a 3-1 win on Monday at the MTS Centre. It was Buffalo’s first regulation loss since February 16 in Philadelphia, and it also prevented them from overtaking the Jets for eighth place in the East. The Sabres are now 30-28-8 (68 points), and dropped to four out of the conference’s final playoff spot.
It was a disappointing end to a four-game road trip that saw the Sabres win three in a row in the Pacific Time Zone for the first time in franchise history. Lindy Ruff said despite the first three wins, tonight’s loss still stings because of the immediate effect it had on the standings.
“I think if anybody would’ve said before we left that we’d win three of four, you’d be pretty happy,” said Ruff. “We just lost to the wrong team.”
A defensive lapse by the Sabres resulted in Wheeler’s breakaway, and Ruff knows it ultimately cost them the game.
“We made a big mistake in the third. It was a pretty tight game. To give Wheeler a breakaway at that time in the game was bad judgment on our part by our defense. We had one guy joining, and (Wheeler) slipped in behind our other defenseman.
“We didn’t have the energy they had, and that was obvious. We knew that we were gonna have to play a pretty smart game with the amount of games we’ve been playing. I think they had four days off, and we knew they’d be a fresher team. It’s disappointing to have it 1-1 at almost 50 minutes and make the mistake we made. We didn’t get a puck to the net and it turned out to be a breakaway going the other way. What should have been an offensive chance for us turned into the game winner for them.”
Buffalo trailed 1-0 after the first on a goal by Andrew Ladd, but were able to give themselves some life late in the second on a goal by rookie Corey Tropp.
Brad Boyes carried the puck into the Winnipeg zone and fired the puck to the net. The hardworking Matt Ellis retrieved the puck and got it to the goalline where Tropp was able to battle hard in the crease and tap home the tying goal with 35 seconds left in the period. It was Tropp’s second of the season, with both goals coming against the Jets.
“There’s still a lot of pretty goals, but a lot of the goals being scored in the league are the ones where you put the puck into that so-called mixer and you get a good bounce,” Ellis explained. “Boysie made a nice play on it, I got it in the paint and Tropper did a good job driving in and we were rewarded on the sheet.”
The Sabres fly back to Buffalo on Tuesday morning, and will get a quick night’s sleep in their own beds before hosting the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Following that game it’s right back on the road for the Sabres, with a pair of games in Boston (Thursday) and Ottawa (Saturday).
1-0 WPG: Ladd gets Little's rebound and bangs it past Miller. (13:45)… Shots: WPG-10, BUF-7
1-1: After Boyes gets the puck deep, Tropp digs in low and pushes the puck over the line with a little help from Ellis. (19:25) … Shots: WPG-8, BUF-8
2-1 WPG: Wheeler gets sprung free on a breakaway and goes high glove on Miller. (8:02)… 3-1 WPG: Thorburn cuts around Regehr from the right wing and jams a shot between Miller's legs. (10:54) … Shots: WPG-13, BUF-8
SABRES NOTES: The Sabres haven’t won a game in Winnipeg since February 10, 1993… Marcus Foligno (healthy) and Cody McCormick (upper body) were Buffalo’s scratches… Foligno was recalled on an emergency basis earlier in the day from Rochester… McCormick has now missed 12 games after being injured against Dallas on February 10.