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Sabres let another lead slip away in loss to Preds

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

If these stories are beginning to sound like a broken record, the players in the dressing room for the Buffalo Sabres are right there with you. That's how Jake McCabe described their 5-4 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators at home on Tuesday.

Just like in Arizona on Sunday night, the Sabres were unable to protect a two-goal lead in the third period. Ryan Johansen scored to bring the Predators within one with 8:44 remaining and Filip Forsberg tied the game late prior to scoring the game-winning goal in overtime.

"It's the same thing," McCabe said. "It's frustrating saying that, because obviously we were just in this situation in Phoenix and, you know, we say the right things. But it comes to a point where you've got to go out and execute and that's what we're not doing. 

"You've got to put together a full 60 otherwise it's just going to be more embarrassing losses like this."

Video: McCABE: Postgame

McCabe, Brian Gionta and Kyle Okposo all had two-point nights for the Sabres with a goal and an assist each. What they also had in common was their analysis of the game afterward. In summary, the Sabres showed the style of play that makes them successful early on but abandoned it thereafter.

Gionta and Okposo both cleaned up rebounds around the net late in that first period to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead. Mike Fisher scored for Nashville to cut the lead in half prior to intermission, but the Sabres still played well enough for coach Dan Bylsma to call the period one of Buffalo's best.

Video: NSH@BUF: Okposo backhands goal from the doorstep

Even after Colin Wilson tied the game with a power-play goal early in the second, the Sabres responded when Gionta connected with Evander Kane on a 2-on-1 rush later on, and they regained their two-goal lead on McCabe's goal, another shot off a rebound, in the opening minute of the third.

Video: NSH@BUF: McCabe snaps puck past Rinne off rebound

"It's the same recipe we've had for success all year," McCabe said. "It's getting pucks in and getting in on the forecheck and putting pressure on their D, turning the pucks over. Like I've said this whole year, that's where we're at our best and we know that's where we're at our best but for some reason we tend to go away from that."

"We just needed to continue to move our feet," Okposo added. "We had, you know, so many good shifts in the offensive zone in the first period and then after that it just kind of seemed to die. We were just one and done or none and done. We just kind of sat back and let them have at it."

To do that was especially dangerous given the fact that they were going up against a playoff team with the NHL's hottest player in Forsberg, who entered the night with eight goals in his last four games. Johansen was all alone when Forsberg fed him on the rush to recapture the momentum for Nashville midway through the third-period, and Forsberg tied the game himself on a mini 2-on-1 rush with 2:23 remaining. 

Buffalo was given another chance when Viktor Arvidsson was called for boarding with 2.8 seconds left in regulation, giving the Sabres a 4-on-3 power play to open the overtime period. The quartet of Okposo, Ryan O'Reilly, Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen did put four shots on net, but was unable to beat Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.

Forsberg banked his game-winning goal in off the crossbar on a 2-on-1 rush with 2:15 remaining in overtime after Sam Reinhart had his shot blocked deep in the Nashville zone.

Robin Lehner, who was given clearance to play this morning after missing the game on Sunday due to a neck injury, made 36 saves on 41 shots.

"I don't think the third period today or against Arizona is us not doing the game plan or us getting off the page," Bylsma said. "It's just more of a mindset, more of a situational game read of how we need to play and playing the right way and playing on top of guys to finish a game out."

"It's being fragile," Gionta said. "It's being a young team trying to find our way. When we have those leads we can't sit back and wait for teams to bring it to us."

What makes it more difficult is the possibility that, when the Sabres next take the ice, this team may not look the same. The trade deadline looms at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and Buffalo has lost four games in a row with just 19 left to play.

"Deadline's not a fun thing when you're in a position like we are," Okposo said. "We had a chance a few days ago to ride a different course and weren't able to do that so this one stings. I haven't been part of a team where it's been like that.

"I feel like I've always known whether we were going to be buyers or sellers, so this one stings. We've got a good group and tomorrow's a tough day."


Notes and numbers

Kane's 21 even-strength goals are tied with Vladimir Tarasenko for sixth in the NHL, and lead the League since Dec. 3. His 22 overall goals since Dec. 3 are the third-most by any player in that span (trailing Forsberg, who has 24, and Montreal's Max Pacioretty, who has 26). 

Video: NSH@BUF: Kane snipes home goal off the post

Kane is performing at a pace of .412 even-strength goals per game, which, according to @SabresPR, is the highest mark by any Sabre since Alexander Mogilny set the franchise record with a pace of .636 in 1992-93.

Jack Eichel also stayed hot with his assist on Gionta's goal in the first period. He has 14 assists in February, which leads the NHL, and his 16 points overall is tied for third in the League with Chicago's Patrick Kane (Kane's teammate, Jonathan Toews, leads with 18, while Forsberg has 17). 

Video: NSH@BUF: Gionta banks goal off Rinne with backhand


Up next

The Sabres continue their three-game homestand on Thursday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.

In the meantime, stay tuned to for complete coverage of the trade deadline on Wednesday.

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