Only two players remained in the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room. One was Mikhail Grigorenko, who accepted handshakes and posed for pictures with the puck used for his first NHL goal.
Across the room, still in his pads, Ryan Miller sat almost motionless. The goaltender had his right elbow on his thigh, and he repeatedly picked at his bottom lip with his right hand. He stared blankly at a spot on the floor 5 feet away.
Like Grigorenko, Miller was reliving the game against Toronto. Only the rookie will remember it fondly.
Just 1.5 seconds away from entering their first shootout of the season, the Sabres suffered their first overtime loss. Toronto’s Matt Frattin streaked down the left side of the Buffalo zone as the tenths of seconds ticked toward zero. He beat defenseman Jordan Leopold, Miller and the clock, slipping a shot between the goalie and the post as fans in First Niagara Center looked skyward.
The scoreboard timer read 0.0, but video review showed the puck entered the net before time elapsed. The Maple Leafs partied at center ice, and the shocked Sabres trudged to the dressing room.
“I let the guys down on that one,” Miller said after shedding his equipment. “I just made a stupid decision. Bad play, made a hole and didn’t really take anything away there. Pretty dumb.”
The shocking finish extended the Sabres’ winless streak to four games (0-3-1).
“Sometimes it has to start with one point,” captain Jason Pominville said. “It’s just unfortunate when you give yourself an opportunity to get two and it slips away with 1.5 seconds. You have to complete games to be able to win them.”
The Sabres lost to Toronto at home for just the second time in 13 games. They’ll travel to Boston to face another archrival Thursday.
“It’s games like these that are only going to make us stronger and harder,” Sabres right wing Drew Stafford said. “It’s just frustrating. We’re getting better. ... Obviously, to lose it like that, it’s tough.”
The day started with the Sabres celebrating news that Grigorenko was staying with the team all season. It nearly ended with another party for the rookie when he tied the game with 12:50 left.
The Sabres and their supporters in the crowd of 18,801 were in a lull until Grigorenko scored. The arena went bonkers after the center got Mike Weber’s rebound in the slot and slipped a backhand through James Reimer’s pads.
As the wide-smiled Grigorenko went to one knee for a sliding fist pump, he was tackled by teammate Marcus Foligno as fans clad in blue and gold hopped to their feet.
“That was the moment of great enthusiasm in the game,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “It was great to see.”
But the Leafs, backed by 10,000 vocal fans who made more noise than the 19,000 who attend games in Toronto, celebrated last when Frattin scored.
Miller lamented two other goals. Toronto opened the scoring when Nazem Kadri’s shot eluded Miller’s glove, struck the crossbar and bounced to Jay McClement in front for a rebound goal. The Leafs answered goals by Pominville and Andrej Sekera and took a 3-2 lead early in the second when Miller whiffed on Cody Franson’s point shot.
“I just really didn’t feel like I gave the guys too much help,” Miller said. “We get three goals and we carried the play. We probably should have had a lead. I’ve got to make more saves. I just didn’t have it.”
Sabres right wing Patrick Kaleta didn’t get to see the wild ending. He was taken to the hospital for precautionary tests after suffering a neck injury in the first period.
Kaleta made a pass along the boards and turned his back as Mike Brown barreled in. The Toronto forward followed through his hit and was assessed a boarding penalty.
“I thought he was sideways,” Ruff said. “Some of the obligation is on the player. I didn’t think he was defenseless. It’s a tough area.
“It’s not a blatant run of a guy from behind. He’s had the neck issues in the past. ... We want to make sure that there’s nothing there.”