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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

PHILADELPHIA – Only 29 seconds had passed since Jamie McGinn had put the Buffalo Sabres on the board in the third period when Nick Cousins, a rookie playing his 19th game, stripped Justin Bailey, a rookie playing his first, in the middle of the ice at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.

Cousins raced to the net ahead of Josh Gorges and beat Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner with a slap shot between the pads. It was Cousins' first NHL goal, but the fifth of the night for the Philadelphia Flyers. The 5-1 score held as Philadelphia handed Buffalo its second regulation loss in a row.

"We had breakdowns," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "Mental breakdowns, turnovers, lack of coverage, a little of everything. Unfortunately these last two games have been the same."

Cousins' goal, in a way, was a microcosm of the Sabres' night. Anytime it seemed things were starting to go their way, be it a power play or a third-period goal, the Flyers would be the ones to strike and snatch the momentum.

That happened time and time again in the game-deciding second period, which began with the two teams in a scoreless tie and Buffalo on the power play. Philadelphia's R.J. Umberger opened the scoring 1:23 into that period, less than a minute after a McGinn goal was waved off for a high stick and 15 seconds after the power play ended.

Braden Schenn scored 48 seconds later and Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl each tallied before period's end. The Sabres earned two more power plays in the second but went 0-for-6 on the night with a combined six shots on goal.

The proximity of the Sabres' power-play chances to each other made them even more difficult to bear. Their second opportunity came just eight seconds after their first expired, and their third came less than a minute after their second. Their fourth and fifth opportunities came 12 seconds apart.

"We had some good looks, some good chances, but [when] you have that many power plays, you've got to make something happen," Gionta said.

Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk each earned an assist on McGinn's goal for the Sabres. Robin Lehner, making his third-straight start, allowed five goals on 28 shots while Steve Mason made 41 saves for the Flyers.

Take away Bailey's giveaway in the third period, and he was impressive in his first NHL game. The 20-year-old put his speed on display throughout the night and made his presence felt in the offensive zone with seven shots on goal.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma smiled and looked at the stat sheet when asked about Bailey's performance. But the way he listed the rookie's qualities sound like he was reading off a checklist.

"Seven shots on net, yeah, he was around the net, used his speed, big-bodied, he was in front of the cage," Bylsma said. "He was probably our best forward tonight in the game, our best player tonight in the game."

Bailey was rewarded as such. After beginning the game on the fourth line with David Legwand and Daniel Catenacci, he eventually saw time lines centered by both Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly. He finished with 11:54 of ice time.

"He didn’t get much of an opportunity through the first period with the power plays," Bylsma said. "I thought almost every shift he was on the ice he showed that speed, showed that ability to get to the net and as a result he got more opportunities as the night went on."

Bailey only had to wait until his fourth shift for his first legitimate scoring chance. Then he had another. And another. And another. In fact, Bailey's first four shots came within a 10-second span in the first period.

First, after Marcus Foligno freed the puck following a faceoff, Bailey wrapped around behind the net and attempted a backhand shot that bounced off Mason. Falling, he took another shot off the rebound, then, from one knee, another shot off the following rebound.

The puck eventually got back to the point, where Rasmus Ristolainen took a shot that deflected off the post. Bailey took his fourth shot off of that rebound, but this time Mason fell on his back to cover the puck

"I think the biggest thing from me coming from junior or even to Rochester was I get a lot of chances in tight," Bailey said. "A lot those kind of just slapping at it would kind of beat the goalie but I think in pros you've got to get the puck up for sure, it's one of the harder things when it comes to scoring goals."

Just 3:33 remained when Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas delivered a high hit on Catenacci in open ice that sent the rookie forward to the dressing room. Catenacci was battling for the puck with another Flyer when Gudas charged in and leveled him to the ground.

Jake McCabe came to Catenacci's defense, jumping in to fight Gudas immediately after the hit. When all was said and done, McCabe received two minutes for instigating on top of the fighting major and a game misconduct. Gudas received a five-minute charging major and five minutes for fighting.

"I don't want to talk about that guy. That guy's an idiot," said Marcus Foligno, who also fought Gudas in the second period after a hit in which Gudas' outstretched leg clipped Foligno as he skated by. "He gets his hits in and he's dirty and he's been known for it, and he goes after a friggin' rookie who plays in three games and goes right after his head. I don’t know. He's an idiot, that guy, that's all I can say.

"I wish that me and [Nicolas Deslauriers] were on the ice at that time, we probably would have done a little worse damage to him."

McCabe was on the ice, and his teammates appreciated his willingness to defend his teammate.

"Yeah, great," Foligno said. "McCabe is a tough guy and stepped in for his teammates. That's what you want to see."

Bylsma said Catenacci was being evaluated after the game but had no further update. He, too, thought that the hit was aimed at the rookie's head.

"I don’t think there's too much question about it," Bylsma said. "The refs took care of it on the ice as did Jake McCabe … I know that we'll look at the hit and deal with it."

The Sabres won't have time to dwell on the loss. They host the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night at First Niagara Center, a rematch from their contest that the Sabres won 4-2 in Montreal on Feb. 3.

Coverage on Friday begins at 6:30 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.

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