OTTAWA -- Waiting for a whistle that never came cost the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
Michael Houser made 43 saves in his season debut, earning a win in net as the Buffalo Sabres topped the Ottawa Senators 3-1. The game turned near the midway point of the third period with the score tied.
Senators defenceman Erik Brannstrom ran Sabres forward Kyle Okposo into the boards right between the benches. The hit created a reaction as players from both teams came into the melee, but the play went on without a whistle.
Buffalo's Mark Jankowski took advantage of the confusion and broke in with Ottawa's Josh Brown trailing him. Jankowski beat Senators goalie Anton Forsberg stick side, while most of the other players were still watching from between the two benches.
"I think everyone thought the whistle was going," said Senators coach D.J. Smith. "We had a bunch of guys piling on each other in front of the bench and it was a real fluke play."
Brown was frustrated with himself for not being more attentive to the play and blamed himself for the goal.
"I kind of looked up ice, I saw there was a scrum going on," he said. "I kind of assumed that maybe the whistle was blown and I didn't hear it or it was going to be blown. I had the puck so I should have just got it in. Obviously the whistle wasn't blown.
"We learn that as kids to play until you hear the whistle so my fault for sure."
Jankowski said that he knew the play hadn't been whistled down and took full advantage of the Senators' lack of attentiveness.
"I was forechecking so I didn't really see what was going on until I turned up ice and saw the whole thing at the bench there," he said. "(Ottawa's defencemen) were kind of gliding up there a bit and I didn't hear the (referees) blow a whistle, so I was like, `I'm going to see if I can get this puck.' I lifted (Brown's) stick and took the puck and got lucky they didn't blow the whistle there."
Dylan Cozens and Alex Tuch also scored for the Sabres (12-20-7).
Drake Batherson had the lone goal for Ottawa (11-19-2), while Forsberg made 30 saves in net. The Senators had been looking for a third straight win as they returned from a two-game road trip in Western Canada.
Ottawa had an opportunity to tie the game late in the third with a power play, but just couldn't find a way to beat Houser.
One issue was the power play, with the Senators going 1 for 5 with the man advantage.
"First of all, our power play has been really good so you're hopeful they can get that job done," said Smith. "Our issue is we didn't get set up (Tuesday)."
Tuch added some insurance for Buffalo with 40 seconds left to play, putting the puck into an empty net.
"I was pumped," said Houser. "Any time you can seal it with an empty-netter and run out the last 40 seconds with a two-goal lead, I like our chances. It's much better than them buzzing around, 6-on-5, us only up a goal. It was more fun to play that last 40 seconds after (Tuch) buried that."
Down 1-0 in the second, the Senators tied the game with Batherson's first power-play goal of the season. Batherson took a pass down low and while his initial shot was stopped he picked up his own rebound and lifted it over Houser.
Houser is the sixth goalie to suit up for Buffalo this season. He got off to a great start as he made a big save on Alex Formenton on a breakaway and then followed up with a big stop on Tim Stutzle on the rebound.
"He was unbelievable tonight," said Jankowski. "A few times there he bailed us out huge, especially in the first two periods there. He was unbelievable for us back there. We have the most confidence in him and he's just a great guy, someone that everyone in that locker room loves to battle for, loves to play in front of."
Buffalo opened the scoring midway through the period as Cozens got pushed off the puck on the rush and then picked it right back up and let a shot go that beat Forsberg glove side.
Notes: Filip Gustavsson was recalled from AHL Belleville late Tuesday after Matt Murray became ill, but not COVID related and was unable to dress. Vinnie Hinostroza did not travel with the Sabres as he was injured in the Sabres 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Monday afternoon.