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Another Fatal Third Period

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres played a solid opening 40 minutes of hockey, but it wasn't enough to keep the team from slipping into a two-game losing skid. Carrying a one-goal lead into the third period, the Sabres slipped into a defensive shell and allowed a pair of goals by the Columbus Blue Jackets en route to a 3-2 loss in the Nationwide Arena on Friday night.

"We had a few chances and we didn't really trail off [in the third], but I just get this impression that we think we need to change our game and play defense," said goaltender Ryan Miller regarding how the team plays with a third-period lead. "Our game is puck control which is complimented by defense. I think we have to realize that's the way it has to go.

"When Lindy [Ruff] talks about a lockdown mode, so to speak, I don't think he means just sit back and play defense. He's talking about us just playing smart. I think once we learn the difference, we'll be able to shut teams down. There is a big difference between sitting back and playing defense, and making smart plays and playing defense."

Friday night wasn't the first time the Sabres have struggled late. Buffalo dropped a 4-3 decision last Saturday in the team's final contest before the All-Star break after tying the score midway through the third period.

"It's a learning experience," said Miller. "We've got 30 or so games left, but we definitely have to learn the difference between those two things. It's going to be brought up and I'm going to make sure of it."

The woeful power-play unit was one of the bright spots for in the Sabres second-consecutive road loss. The unit finished the game scoring two goals on six opportunities and was just two seconds shy of a third. But as the man advantage was heating up, the referees were cooling down.

Columbus wasn't whistled for a single penalty the entire third period.

"It wasn't that we gave up a dozen scoring chances," said Ruff of his team's play in the third. "We gave up four or five and two of them went in. I think we had only given up three the whole game, so it was a tough way to lose."

Miller took the loss - his ninth of the season - after stopping 23-of-26 shots. Co-captain Chris Drury recorded both Buffalo goals, marking the fourth instance this season that the center has scored two or more goals in a game.

Buffalo needed the opening half of the first period to regain their timing following a five-day layoff, but once the Sabres did, they were lethal. Excluding their first penalty-killing situation, Buffalo dominated play and out shot Columbus 29-13 on their way to a 2-1 lead heading into the final frame.

The lone blemish came off a fluke redirection midway through the first.

Rick Nash recorded his 14th goal of the season after his across-ice feed intended for Anson Carter deflected off Teppo Numminen's bended knee at 12:09. Numminen was attempting to close the passing lane, but inadvertently deflected the puck past Miller.

"It was just one of those things," said Miller. "Teppo made a great play and the puck just bounces in."

Drury tied the game with his 11th power-play goal of the season at 15:27 of the first with what is quickly becoming his signature shot with the man advantage. Receiving the puck at the goal line, Drury cut to the net and caught Fredrik Norrena committing early with a wristshot top shelf.

The goal was just Buffalo's second in their last 23 man-advantage opportunities over the past six games. With the primary assist, All-Star MVP Daniel Briere extended his points-scoring streak to four games. Another assist on Drury's second goal gave Briere his 41st helper of the season and seven points (2+5) during his most recent hot streak.

Two clicks on the clock shy of scoring their second power-play goal, Buffalo took a 2-1 lead with Drury's second of the night. From nearly the exact same location on the ice as his first, Drury one-timed Briere's rebound past Norrena just a minute into the second period to record his 26th goal of the season.

Trailing on an odd-man rush, Rostislav Klesla received a drop pass and snapped a wristshot into the top half of the net to tie the game 2-2 at 5:22 of the third.

Miller denied Dan Fritsche's first attempt from pointblank range, but the center second attempt flipped over the netminder's right pad to give Columbus the 3-2 lead at 9:23. Columbus out shot the Sabres 13-9 in the final frame.
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.
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