Sabres rattle Oilers

Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin keeps an eye on the puck along with teammate Eric Belanger and...

Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin keeps an eye on the puck along with teammate Eric Belanger and Sabres forward Brad Boyes at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., Jan. 3, 2012. (DOUG BENZ/Reuters)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:13 PM ET

BUFFALO - For a team that was battered and playing on consecutive nights, the Edmonton Oilers had a lot of fight in them Tuesday.

Unfortunately for the club, they did not have enough gas in the tank to sustain what otherwise was a strong effort, falling 4-3 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Jason Pominville, Jordan Leopold, Drew Stafford and Nathan Gerbe scored for the Sabres, while Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner and Corey Potter responded for the Oilers.

"I thought we gave Buffalo everything they could handle and it was a winnable game for us," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "There's obviously reasons why we didn't (win), but I thought we played well. I would have liked to have seen more of going to the net in the second and third period and a little more traffic there.

"But I thought we played an organized game, we were very passionate, we really tried to play within our structure if you will. We didn't quit and that's just as important as anything."

Missing both Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Tom Gilbert due to injury, the Oilers were looking for someone to step up for them on both ends of the ice.

Ales Hemsky took up the challenge on the offensive end, putting forward one of his best efforts of the season, picking up a pair of assists in the process.

Hemsky had been scrutinized for his lack of offensive production this year and chastised for apparently pulling up on a vital icing race Monday in Chicago.

Yet playing on a line with Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner, Hemsky resembled his former self and was one of the Oilers' most dangerous players.

"I think we were skating pretty well as a line and we moved the puck pretty well," said Hemsky. "I think it was a good effort from everybody and the last 10 minutes we kind of gave it up."

Stafford once against stuck it to the Oilers, finishing with a goal and a pair of assists on the night. The nephew of former Oilers equipment man Barrie Stafford went into the contest having scored four goals in three previous games against the Oilers.

Tuesday night was Stafford's second three-point game of the season. He scored the go-ahead goal off a scramble in front of goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin in the third. Gerbe then extended the lead on a breakaway before Potter scored to pull the Oilers within one.

"I have to give credit to my linemates," Stafford said. "We were having a pretty good game down low, making some good plays. We finally got a break on my goal, just hanging around in front of the paint and got a lucky bounce there."

At the other end, Sam Gagner finished with a pair of points, scoring the team's tying goal in the second period on a two-man advantage. Hall had opened the scoring for the Oilers in the first.

"I thought we played really well and it kind of got away from us in the second and third," said Gagner. "We didn't have a good enough pushback when they pressed and it ultimately cost us. I thought our legs were good I think it was just a matter of making smarter decisions. Getting pucks in deep was a huge part of it and making sure we were backing each other up. It's a tough one to lose, considering we played pretty well for the most part."

The Oilers played the Sabres even through the first two periods and could have been up going into the third had it not been for a questionable goaltender interference call on Hemsky.

The Oilers winger was ruled to have nudged goaltender Drew Miller while cruising out in front of the Sabres crease as Potter hammered in a shot from the point.

"I thought he had nowhere to go, he didn't try to hit Miller, the defender took his ice away," said Renney. "He glanced off of Miller. It's not Miller's first rodeo so down he goes."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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