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Dahlin scores in OT, Sabres hand slumping Canucks third straight loss

VANCOUVER — After a disappointing homestand, the Vancouver Canucks are once again searching for answers — and hoping to find them before their faint playoff hopes are extinguished completely.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko, front left, stacks his pads to stop Buffalo Sabres' Zemgus Girgensons (28), of Latvia, as Kyle Okposo (21), Vancouver's Bo Horvat (53) and Noah Juulsen (47) watch during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, March 20, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — After a disappointing homestand, the Vancouver Canucks are once again searching for answers — and hoping to find them before their faint playoff hopes are extinguished completely. 

The Canucks (30-26-8) lost their third in a row Sunday when they dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the visiting Buffalo Sabres. 

“This time of the year things get way harder and you can’t expect to play an easy game at this time of the year and wait for chances on the perimeter or wait for power plays or whatever," defenceman Luke Schenn said after the loss. "This time of the year, it’s a man’s game and you’ve gotta grind. And I think if we want to stay in it we need to find a lot of that in our game.”

The result came after Vancouver coughed up an ugly 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday. The Canucks went 2-3-2 across their seven-game homestand and have dropped to four points out of a playoff spot. 

J.T. Miller said the stretch is hard to swallow. 

"Because for me, I think it’s effort based. I think it’s will, wanting to play in the playoffs, and wanting to beat your opponent," said the star forward. "We talked about how late in the season every team is good, there’s no excuses. I think they wanted it more than we did today.” 

Miller put up a goal and an assist in the losing effort, while Canucks captain Bo Horvat scored on a second-period power play. 

Casey Mittelstadt had a goal and an assist and Jeff Skinner scored in regulation for the Sabres (22-33-8), who have victories in four of their last five outings.

Rasmus Dahlin scored 48 seconds into extra time to clinch the win. 

"Anybody that had any doubts about Rasmus Dahlin, just watch that game tonight. He was amazing both ways," said Buffalo head coach Don Granato. "He's just slippery and I said to the team after the game why'd you wait so long? Because he had some pretty nice plays throughout."

Thatcher Demko stopped 26-of-29 shots for Vancouver and Buffalo netminder Craig Anderson made 30 saves for his 20th win of the season. 

The Canucks have now lost three games in a row for the first time since Jan. 25. 

The journey isn't about to get any easier. Vancouver is set to kick off a four-game road trip against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. The swing also includes visits to Minnesota, Dallas and St. Louis, all of whom the Canucks are chasing in the race for a post-season berth. 

“We’ve got to take that ‘It’s now or never’ mentality," said head coach Bruce Boudreau. "We know it’s a gauntlet of games the next seven. And we know for sure that by the end of that we’ll know whether we have a chance or we don’t have a chance. 

"You either embrace the challenge and say ‘Bring it on, let’s do it’ or you fear it. And I chose to embrace it. Because if you do get through it and you have success on it, then you’ve played the best teams in the West already and nothing should scare you.”

The Canucks didn't touch the puck in Sunday's overtime. 

Buffalo won the draw and practised patience, waiting in their own end and drawing jeers from the crowd before working their way up the ice, where Dahlin ripped a shot from the slot to beat Demko with the game winner. 

The defenceman said he was trying to go bar down but sent a shot skittering through the goalie's pads instead. 

"It always just like when you whiff on the shot you always score, so it was kind of lucky but great play from (Alex) Tuch holding it, holding it and then gave me a perfect play, so it was good," Dahlin said. 

"I was kind of feeling good today, to be honest. We got the win. It was a hell of a game from us. We battled through the whole 60 and a little bit more, so that one felt really good."

Miller nearly ended the game with 74 seconds to go in regulation, powering his way to the net in traffic. Anderson stopped the shot but couldn't contain the rebound and the loose puck momentarily hung in the crease surrounded by ample traffic. 

The Canucks got a prime opportunity to break the 2-2 deadlock when Mattias Samuelsson was called for tripping after hauling Horvat down in the Sabres zone with less than five minutes on the game clock. 

Defenceman Quinn Hughes gave Anderson some trouble with some long shots from inside the blue line but the veteran goalie weathered the man advantage and kept the score even. 

Vancouver twice tied the game in the second but Demko made a brilliant save in the dying seconds of the period, sliding across the crease feet first and stacking his pads to deny Zemgus Girgensons from in tight to keep the score even heading into the final frame. 

Horvat knotted the score at 2-2 with a power-play goal midway through the second after Skinner was called for hooking. 

Miller waited patiently to set up the play, stickhandling around the perimeter before dishing the puck off to the Canucks captain, who sent a one timer sailing past Anderson for his 23rd goal of the season.

The Canucks were 1 for 3 with the man advantage Sunday. The Sabres' power play went 0 for 2.

Buffalo's second goal of the night came during a stretch of four-on-four hockey after Vancouver's Conor Garland and Buffalo's Dylan Cozens were called for roughing. 

A Canucks clearing attempt went awry, with Juho Lammikko digging the puck out from behind the net and sending it to Tyler Myers as he fell in front of the Vancouver net. The Canucks defenceman couldn't bounce back up in time to stop Skinner from getting to the loose puck and the Sabres sniper popped a shot in past Demko at the 3:55 mark.

Vancouver challenged for an offside zone entry on the play but after an extended review, the officials determined it was a good goal and the Canucks were handed a bench minor penalty for delay of game. 

Miller put the Canucks on the board 2:31 into the second, picking up a pass from Garland and muscling his way in alone before snapping a shot past Anderson. The shot hit the back bar of the Buffalo net and ricocheted out so quickly that play continued for several moments before the goal was called. 

The Sabres got an early jump on the home side Sunday, scoring just 1:50 into the game after the Canucks turned the puck over at their own blue line. 

Mittelstadt got a jump on his defender before blasting a shot past Demko from the high slot.

Slow starts have plagued Vancouver across their seven-game homestand and the Canucks are 10-20-6 when allowing the first goal this season. 

"Until we figure out a way to come out and take control of the game on our home turf, I think we’re going to have a lot of issues," Miller said. "It’s too hard to come back in this league every single game."

NOTES: Will Butcher returned to the Sabres lineup after missing 19 games with a lower-body injury. … The Canucks made a pair of trades Sunday, acquiring defenceman Travis Dermott from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL entry draft. Vancouver also dealt veteran blue liner Travis Hamonic to the Ottawa Senators for a third-round pick. … Sabres head coach Don Granato is the older brother of Canucks assistant general manager Cammi Granato. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2022. 

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press