Fan appreciation night in Buffalo ended like many expected with the Buffalo Sabres being the first team in the NHL this season to clinch the 31st spot in the league. Buffalo faced the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night and lost 4-2.
Ottawa stayed mostly dominate throughout the night as the same story played out for Buffalo as it has all year. The positive; the Buffalo Sabres now hold the best odds for the first overall selection in the upcoming NHL entry draft.
The first 30 seconds were great
Buffalo came out strong in the opening minutes of the first period when just 30 seconds in Ryan O'Reilly scored his 23rd goal of the year off of a great feed from Scott Wilson that set up his speedy breakaway. But, only a few minutes later, Ottawa would answer back.
Max McCormick tied the game for Ottawa only 2:26 after the O'Reilly goal and then Ottawa jumped out to the early lead after a terrible turnover by the Sabres in their own zone that landed right on the stick of Matt Duchene. Duchene ripped one by starting goalie for the night, Chad Johnson for the 2-1 lead.
Ottawa controlled the pace for about four minutes after taking the lead, but then Buffalo went on to outshoot Ottawa seven shots to none over the next six and a half minutes. With just under three minutes to play, Buffalo got the first powerplay of the night as Duchene headed to box for holding. The powerplay and the period would end with Buffalo still down 2-1.
Buffalo lets Dzingel get his 21st of the year
The Senators announced that forward Bobby Ryan would not return from a lower-body injury after taking a hard hit from Jack Eichel and looking weak to get up. So, Ottawa had to continue the game without another one of their key playmakers.
Ottawa went on the powerplay as Marco Scandella went to the box for tripping, and one second after he returned to the ice, Ryan Dzingel picked the top corner over Johnson to give Ottawa a 3-1 lead. It was his 21st goal of the season.
Buffalo got their share of chances for the rest of the second as they went on the man advantage again, but would come up empty-handed as no one decided to shoot the puck until Eichel put it right into a defender's legs to end the powerplay. Brendan Guhle tried to get his first career goal on a 2-on-1 with Jordan Nolan but received the pass too close to Craig Anderson who proceeded to stop it with ease.
Finally, Buffalo was able to muster up some offense as Kyle Okposo shed a defender with one still on his back as he fired the shot past Anderson for his 14th of the season. Casey Mittelstadt was credited with an assist giving him three points in four games for the Sabres.
Ottawa controlled play for the rest of the period, but luckily Johnson was able to stand strong keeping Buffalo in the game only down by one heading into the third period.
Buffalo clinches the 31st spot
Alex Nylander was plugged into the game right after his call-up from the AHL and he was decent in his first NHL start this season. He created chances and started the third off by nearly missing a game-tying goal and setting up Okposo well in front of the net only to have that turned away by Anderson.
Johnson held down the fort as Buffalo muddled around on offense not really being able to get anything going. They had another powerplay chance but only managed one shot. Johnson made a beautiful save on Dzingel once the powerplay was over off of a Mittelstadt turnover in the Buffalo zone.
With about a minute and a half left, the extra attacker came onto the ice but it wouldn't provide much help for Buffalo as Alexandre Burrows added an empty-netter to make fans quickly head for the exits.
Buffalo's home schedule came to a fitting end with a 4-2 loss and the best odds at Rasmus Dahlin and the number-one overall pick. Another positive was fans in attendance got to watch other people in the arena win cool stuff, and they also got a Dominik Hasek bobblehead for attending the game. So, there were wins all around just not on the ice.
Buffalo has two games left both against Florida teams where Sabres' players will be spending a lot of their time golfing during the NHL playoffs and offseason.
They play the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday then end the season against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.