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Sabres unable to keep Canes' speed at bay in 5-2 loss

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

RALEIGH, N.C. - Brian Gionta took a brief pause as he began to describe what had gone wrong for the Buffalo Sabres at PNC Arena on Friday night. The Sabres lost 5-2 to the Carolina Hurricanes, their second loss in as many days, and there was little new that the captain could say.

"Same stuff," Gionta said. "Same stuff that's been happening. Turnovers, not playing with enough urgency. It's the same thing, it's a broken record."

The loss was indeed similar to Buffalo's 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday in that the Sabres got the first goal but began allowing their opponent to play to their strength in the second period. In the case of both the Lightning and the Hurricanes, that strength is speed.

The Hurricanes used that speed to produce three goals in the second, including two from Jeff Skinner that came 55 seconds apart in the period's opening minutes. Skinner's first goal came as the result of good movement through the neutral zone, allowing him to take a shot that skipped in off the glove of Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson. 

After that, things began to unravel. Skinner's next goal came during a long change for the Sabres, one that Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk was quick to recognize in his own zone. Faulk hit Skinner with a stretch pass at the Sabres' blue line, freeing him to score on a breakaway. 

"The second period especially, you've got to be more intelligent," O'Reilly said. "You've got to make sure you have two, three guys that are staying on the ice. You get two fresh guys on but you have three holding it down so they can't go quick up and expose us … Skinner's a good player and has speed, he just exposed us."

"We got taught a bit of a lesson in second-period hockey with the long change," coach Dan Bylsma added.

Carolina extended its lead at the 6:51 mark of the period when Elias Lindholm won a battle along the boards, took a shot, and Brock McGinn skated in alone to score on the rebound. Gionta put Buffalo in position to come back with a shorthanded goal - the Sabres' first of the season - before the period expired, but Victor Rask scored 4:15 into the third to restore Carolina's two-goal lead and their momentum. McGinn added his second goal of the game less than four minutes later.

Video: BUF@CAR: Gionta finishes wraparound for SHG

"There's no excuse," O'Reilly said. "We had a chance. We started to come back, we were going to come back in the game and then to give them another goal, it just really took the wind out of our sails. It's unacceptable." 

Carolina goalie Cam Ward made some big saves in his 600th NHL game, including a couple of shorthanded stops on O'Reilly and Evander Kane late in the third period. He made 35 saves on 37 shots overall, earning his third win against the Sabres this season.

Nilsson faced 38 shots and made 33 saves in his second start in as many nights.

"I'm not feeling fatigued at all. It's obviously fun to play, it's almost easier to play more consistent," Nilsson said. "But obviously it's not fun letting in five goals and it's not fun losing. It's a team game and all of us need to find a way to win here."

The Sabres got the start they were looking for, establishing their forecheck early during a first period in which they outshot the Hurricanes 11-4 at even strength. It was off the forecheck where they got their first goal, when O'Reilly forced a turnover down low as the Hurricanes looked to break the puck out and quickly fed William Carrier for his third goal of the season. 

Video: BUF@CAR: Carrier slides the puck home on the doorstep

O'Reilly said it was Skinner's initial goal seemed to shake the team's confidence, forcing them to overthink the game.

"Seeing them score and getting affected by it … We start thinking again," he said. "Once we start thinking we start to get a little bit more individual, and it just breaks us down. It's frustrating."

The other way in which the loss was similar to the game in Tampa was the squandered opportunity for points against a team in close proximity to the Sabres in the standings. The Hurricanes, who improved to 13-1-1 in their last 15 games at PNC Arena, extended their lead over the Sabres to six points.

"It's another big opportunity missed," Gionta said.


Up next

The Sabres will begin yet another back-to-back set when they return home to host the Dallas Stars on Monday afternoon. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Stars at 1 p.m. 

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