CHICAGO — Rasmus Dahlin leaned against a white concrete block wall in a narrow hallway next to the Buffalo Sabers’ locker room late Tuesday night as he tried to take in what was happening on the ice at the United Center.
“Personally, it was a really tough game,” Dahlin told The shortly after the Sabers lost 4-3 in overtime to the bottom-ranked Chicago Blackhawks, who went into the game down 54 goals Buffalo News.
Dahlin couldn’t face the fact that he was on the ice for the Blackhawks’ three consecutive goals in the third half and overtime, topped by defenseman Seth Jones, the game-winner with 2:36 on the clock.
Although Dahlin fired three shots at Chicago goaltender Petr Mrazek and blocked three attempts by Blackhawks skaters, Dahlin called his performance “unacceptable.” He didn’t think he was sharp enough with or without the puck.
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And there was the 10-minute misconduct penalty that put the Sabers’ top defender and skater in the box while the team held on to a one-goal lead in the third period.
Dahlin received no explanation as he was escorted to the box just after Philipp Kurashev cut Buffalo’s lead to one by tapping Jones’ palm shot past goaltender Craig Anderson, with the 18:34 remaining the rule.
The officials criticized Dahlin’s decision to run through the Blackhawks’ goal celebration and unleashed a few nudges to show their displeasure at missing a possible penalty against Chicago in front of goal.
“Yeah, that’s not right on the Dahls side, period,” Sabers coach Don Granato said. “Easy. I think we all know that. … You don’t put yourself or your team in that position. He knows it. He’ll learn from it. Not a good game.”
Dahlin had to watch from the box for 10 minutes as his teammates held on to the 3-2 advantage in front of a loud, boisterous crowd in a building where visiting teams routinely struggled before the Blackhawks’ tank for Connor Bedard began this season.
The Sabers had opportunities to extend their lead with Dahlin in the box but were unable to capitalize. And after he was back on the ice, fellow defender Mattias Samuelsson hit the post late in regulation time. The Blackhawks pulled Mrazek through traffic for an additional attacker and Jones’ wrist shot went past a shielded Anderson to level the score by 55.8 seconds.
“I left my team behind,” Dahlin said. “Ten minutes in the penalty area when we’re trying to win didn’t feel good. I don’t want to be in this situation. I feel like I let the team down and it won’t happen again.”
Dahlin almost won the game for the Sabers in overtime when he netted the puck, and Casey Mittelstadt’s shot during a 2-on-1 led to a rush that Jones ended with the game-winner.
The Sabers (21-19-3) have lost six of their last nine and failed to gain ground in the Atlantic Division standings. Anderson made 22 saves while Mrazek stopped each of the 10 shots he faced in the third period. Victor Olofsson, Tage Thompson and Peyton Krebs each scored a goal for Buffalo, which ended with a 33-26 lead on shots on target.
This was another disjointed effort by the Sabers. For 40 minutes, the Blackhawks looked like the worst team in the league by far, but they had a 1-0 lead early on from another ugly start for Buffalo.
Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy snuck up behind Sabers cover and unleashed a quick wrist shot that knocked Anderson 1-0 up at the far post, just 8:41 in the game.
Turnovers cost the Sabers offensive zone time to midtown Tyson Jost and illustrated how Buffalo needed to play. Mittelstadt won a puck battle to gain possession and Jost drove into the net where he forced the puck into the circle for Olofsson to hammer it past goalkeeper Mrazek at 7:45 of the first period.
There were still too many errors from Buffalo’s forwards and defenders. Jonathan Toews missed the net in a 2-on-1 that could have kicked off Chicago. The top line of the Sabers came through when they were needed. Jeff Skinner laced up a cross-ice pass to Thompson, who rounded Jones with stickhandling and pushed the puck over the goal line for his 32nd goal of the season to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead, 6.9 seconds from time in the first One-third.
Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons had 2-on-1 moments due to a breakout pass from Henri Jokiharju in the second half and the club failed to score on a power play early in midfield. But the onslaught of scoring chances ended when Krebs caught a turnover from Max Domi and scored with a shorthandy breakaway to make it 3:1 at 13:39 before the second break.
Kurashev responded 1:34 into the third by tipping Jones’ shot, prompting Dahlin to confront officers about a call he believed was missed. He was still in the box when the Sabers had a power play later in the half and had an opportunity to regain a two-goal lead.
“If I could have done it (differently), not so close to where they were celebrating,” Dahlin said, referring to the scrum with the Blackhawks celebrating on the ice. “I don’t know. I honestly don’t know why I got the 10. I asked him why I got it.”
Dahlin was in the slot when Tyler Johnson shielded Anderson on the equalizer, failing to cut the 2-on-1 pass that led to the overtime winner. The Blackhawks had 65.52% of 5-on-5 shot attempts (19-10) when Dahlin was on the ice Tuesday night.
One game doesn’t change the fact that Dahlin is having a superstar season. More than four years since he was selected as the first overall pick of the 2018 draft, Dahlin has 13 goals and 48 points in 42 games. He regularly takes on the opposition’s top players and shoulders an immense workload for Buffalo. Losing possession in last week’s winner against Winnipeg was his first notably poor play with the puck all season.
But Dahlin knows expectations are high now. His teammates are counting on him to do his best with the game in the lineup. On Tuesday, he didn’t believe he had delivered.
“We had a tough track here,” he said. “Mentally I wasn’t there. I can’t talk about the team, but I can only blame myself. I have to look at myself in the mirror. I have to play better. That was unacceptable.”
Here are more observations from the game:
Anderson immediately called out goaltender interference when officials signaled that Johnson had successfully used the puck to equalize in the final minute of regulation. Johnson’s left foot was in the crease and his elbow caught Anderson’s glove, according to the Sabers goalie.
The NHL’s Situation Room reviewed the game, but confirmed the call on the ice and sent the game into overtime.
“I’m just confused,” Anderson said. “That’s all. There’s no explanation. You don’t get anything. At the end of the day you have no control over it, so you can’t waste your energy.”
Anderson played near his hometown of Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. He made a few key stops in the first 40 minutes as his teammates struggled to string together strong changes, most notably his save from Taylor Raddysh after a rally in Buffalo’s defensive zone.
In the end, the Sabers failed to capitalize on their chances.
“There were enough scoring chances in that game, a couple of goalposts in the third period, so it’s not like we sat back in the third period, but we didn’t take our chances,” he told Granato. “We just didn’t push down and allow the game to stay tight.”
Krebs doesn’t shoot the puck often enough — many young centers are pass-first — but he’s been playing too well lately to not be rewarded with a goal. His time came in the second half on Tuesday when the 21-year-old conceded the puck after a turnover from Domi and beat Mrazek with a backhand for his fourth goal in 37 games this season.
Krebs was among the Sabers’ best forwards Tuesday night, winning 63% of his faceoffs in 15 minutes of ice time.
The Sabers’ six shorthanded goals matched their all-season tally.
Olofsson deserves credit for what he has given the Sabers while maintaining consistent strength. Despite some rough patches in his fourth full NHL season, Olofsson has 18 goals in 43 games. Fourteen of those were level, a new career high, and the coaching staff must be heartened by their latest result. Instead of shooting from the touchline, Olofsson was parked in front of the net to capitalize on Jost’s exhilarating play.
The Sabers are actively trying to find a new team for winger Vinnie Hinostroza, with the 28-year-old back to a healthy scratch. An exchange is not imminent, but the writing is on the wall. His likely departure, along with the departure of veteran striker Riley Sheahan earlier this season, gives Rasmus Asplund greater significance to his progression in the coming weeks.
Asplund, 25, excelled defensively last season, but he didn’t look as sharp during his 25 appearances with Buffalo in 2022-23. The Sabers’ only NHL-eligible options in Rochester are Anders Bjork, Linus Weissbach, Brett Murray and Brandon Biro. They will need Asplund to play vital minutes in the second half of the season. He’s a skilled one-shot center forward, as evidenced by his six goals in eight games at this spring’s IIHF World Championship. Consistency will be key for Asplund. There were flashes of the player we saw last season.
The Sabers host the New York Islanders or Ryan Miller Night on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fans have been instructed to be in their seats in time for the 5:50pm pregame ceremony, and doors will open at 4:30pm
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