Any fan of professional wrestling such as myself knows that a fantastic and exciting match can be spoiled by a lousy ending. That’s exactly how it felt for Buffalo Sabres fans on Tuesday night.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs in town for this season’s first episode of the Battle of the QEW, the result was a contest that was as close as it was evenly matched. Two young, potent teams went toe-to-toe in nearly every aspect and put on an instant classic for fans at KeyBank Center and watching across North America.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, however, the game ended rather disappointingly. An Auston Matthews laser caught Sabres G Linus Ullmark with his pants down and gave the Leafs the 4-3 victory with just two seconds remaining in overtime. That has to sting for the Sabres since the game only went to OT because the team couldn’t sustain a late lead after Jack Eichel capitalized on a turnover with just over seven minutes left in regulation. Patrick Marleau tied in less than two minutes later on a lucky bounce and the rest is history as they say.
Ullmark was sharp in the game for the Sabres and made a number of huge saves, including an enormous one on John Tavares off a shorthanded breakaway halfway through the third. However, the game winner to Matthews that he allowed was, as I put it earlier, lousy. Take no credit away from Matthews, it was a hell of a shot and kudos to him for getting it off with such little time remaining, but it was evident from his reaction that Ullmark was not anticipating it at all. Whether he was expecting time to expire or simply not paying attention, it’s unacceptable. Maybe I’m too harsh a critic, but I need to have that save when it’s glove side. It was probably amazing for the many Toronto fans in attendance, but for Buffalo it was a paltry ending to an otherwise fantastic game.
Regardless of the outcome though, there’s one thing that was certain from the game. If Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews are considered the future of USA Hockey, then it is in great hands. Both scored twice in the contest and made numerous other big plays that stole the spotlight. It’s fitting that the two generational talents wound up on opposite sides of one of hockey’s most underrated rivalries. We’re going to see these guys go at it quite a bit in the future, and it’s sure to be fun every time.
What lies next is crucial for the Sabres: nothing. The team’s torrid stretch of nine games in 15 nights is over and the fatigue is evident. After an incredible 10 game winning streak, Buffalo has now lost four straight and is obviously exhausted. After not having more than two days in a row off in that stretch, the Sabres get a three day break that is as well-deserved as it is desperately needed. The Flyers come to town for a Saturday afternoon matinee and hopefully Buffalo will be rested and rejuvenated by then.
Tonight’s game was amazing, but hopefully better results will come on Saturday after a few day’s rest.