BUFFALO – Jason Spezza used the same word several times when speaking about points left by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Spezza has not spoken of "picking up" or "inserting" points as they rarely come to you this time of year when you play your season's 60th competition and finish second in so many nights. When the Leafs, despite being played by the Buffalo Sabers, were still in a tie hockey game at the start of the third period, Spezza saw a chance.
"These are games that we would like to score points from," he said.
What a perfect way to describe how the Leafs could have saved a Sunday night at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo that offered a promise shortly before a 91-second explosion of the Sabers gave a 5-2 win, that the home team deserved for the overall game quality.
Nevertheless, these valuable points – two would have brought Toronto sixth in the race for third place in the Atlantic Division against the Florida Panthers – could be won, since Frederik Andersen was good enough to compensate a number of teammates who appeared had run empty from the start.
"It was pretty obvious to me after about 10 minutes of the first period that we didn't have it," said Sheldon Keefe, Toronto coach, and found that he was impressed that his squad had found a way to climb out of the 2-0 hole it had dug up to the middle of the game. "To be honest, I was a little stunned that we had the boost we had to start third."
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When Zach Hyman scored his 18th goal for 2-2 at the start of the third round, you thought the template for the Andersen Wall and the team that scored in time could lead to a second win in as many nights , After the victory they had on Saturday over the Ottawa senators in the country's capital.
Perhaps, to play in Spezza's language, they could wrestle or fight a point or two if they were by far the second best group of skaters in the building. Instead, everything fell apart in no time. After Jake Muzzin suffered a stumbling block, Jack Eichel tore a Andersen Powerplay goal to give Buffalo a 3-2 lead of 6: 6 over third. Just 1:31 later, thanks to goals from Kyle Okposo and Jimmy Vesey, the lead had grown to three goals.
"This is it, this is the game," said Hyman. "5-2 and it's difficult to come back to."
When the QEW collision was over, Buffalo had 36 shots aimed at Andersen, who made his second start since returning from a neck injury. Every leaf can complain that Toronto was unable to take advantage of the goalkeeper's performance as they prepare for the next two games against Sidney Crosby and the glowing Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We didn't execute," said Captain John Tavares. "They came hard and played hard and we didn't make it. Our goalkeeper just played phenomenally and gave us a big chance. Given the urgency and the points how important they are, it's disappointing, especially once we have gave us a chance in the third to win it.
"We just couldn't put together a full 60."
The lethargic Leafs were lucky enough to survive the first 20 minutes without falling behind. They relied on Andersen to make several high-profile saves in an opening phase where Buffalo had a 16: 5 lead.
However, Toronto's luck changed early in the second when Johan Larsson opened the scoring only 1:32 in the frame, when he collected a carom from the backboards and pushed it past a helpless Andersen. To do justice to the leafs, the club was briefly understaffed at the far end when rookie Rasmus Sandin missed a few shifts before the end of the first and a handful more to start the second after blocking a shot and his club with only five blues left. Liner for a spell.
Buffalo took the 2-0 lead just before mid-game when Conor Sheary brought home a Colin Miller shot.
But just 1:47 after Sheary's goal, Egor Korshkov, who made his debut in the big league, scored his first NHL goal on his first shot and ended a nice feed from Spezza with a crisp one-timer past Carter Hutton ,
"He has a goalkeeper touch," said Spezza, who spent some time next to the tall Russian in the training camp.
Korshkov was just called up by the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League and played his third hockey game in as many days. He also scored a goal in his last three AHL games, which means he scored four goals in two leagues. Kyle Clifford, who had qualified for his sixth game in a Leafs uniform since being acquired by the Los Angeles Kings, scored his first point with his new team by drawing up a balance sheet.
About the only skater in blue and white who frolicked around Buffalo all night was Mitch Marner, who looked dangerous every time he touched the puck. Marner prevailed against Auston Matthews in the second verse, but Hutton denied Matthew's attempt to take the lead in the NHL.
When Hyman was able to equalize the score at the beginning of the third phase of the game, it was the end of a game that Marner started by controlling the puck on the half-wall and feeding him Muzzin for the shot that Hyman tipped home.
At this point, some other players decided to join the fight when the trio of Tavares between William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot opened up some great opportunities right after the goal. Nobody expects wall-to-wall brilliance at this time of year, and for a moment it seemed like Toronto was playing lukewarm hockey for two periods and living to tell about it. Instead, it went aside in a flash.
Here comes Spezza's word again.
"I don't think you will dominate 60 minutes for many nights, but you have to understand that you have to control things a little bit better than we do," he said. "You can't give up three [in 1:31]. It's a difficult time of the year, you have to draw points from the games."
This time they couldn't make it, and as Hyman found, the opportunities to make up for it suddenly don't seem so endless anymore.
"[There are] 22 games left, we have to get started."