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Sabres Suffer First Playoff Loss

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
Regrouping from a tough road loss will need to be the next lesson learned by an inexperienced Sabres team. After two dominating performances in HSBC Arena during Games 1 and 2 of its first round series with the Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo will need to collect its thoughts and make a few adjustments heading into Game 4 on Friday night as the team dropped its first road game of the series 4-2 at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday night.

"I don't think they outplayed us," said Ales Kotalik, who scored Buffalo's first goal and his second of the playoffs in the first period. "We had a strong first and third period, and got really close. We just need to score those clutch goals on the power play to tie the game."

The Flyers' finally found a formula that seemed to produce results against a quicker and smaller team. Pressing Buffalo for three periods with a strong forecheck and clogging the neutral zone with its blueliners, Philadelphia created multiple odd-man rushes and out hit the Sabres, 21-10.

"You're trying to skate as hard as you can all the time, especially in the playoffs," said Kotalik. "The execution wasn't really there tonight and we just didn't stick to our game plan for a while. We need to get the puck behind their defense and keep play in their zone."

The defense that Kotalik mentioned controlled tempo in the opening two periods and limited the speedy Buffalo attack to just nine shots in that span. Buffalo finished the game out shooting the Flyers, 28-27, after flinging 10 shots on Robert Esche in the third period while limited their opponents attack to just a pair.

One area the Sabres will need to improve before its next game is the power play, which failed to covert on seven opportunities. During the first three games of the series, the man-advantage unit - ranked third in the league during the regular season - has gone three for 28.

"I didn't like our power play," said Lindy Ruff. "We missed some opportunities, had some good zone time but didn't make enough quick plays that would have made a difference. Even late, we mishandled the puck and had careless giveaways. It could have been the difference in the game and it ended up allowing them to make the difference."

Brian Savage tied the game four minutes after Kotalik's blast with a shorthanded goal. Philadelphia continued to build on that momentum and scored a pair of goals in the second to take a 3-1 lead heading into the third.

The Sabres came out flying in the final frame, showing the same desperation that earned the team a two-game lead in the series, but couldn't find the game-tying tally after Tim Connolly brought Buffalo to within a goal five minutes in. Connolly led Buffalo with a goal and an assist, giving him five points (2+3) in the first three post-season games of his career.

In Buffalo's last two victories, every break and bounce seemed to go their way. Unfortunately, lady luck shifted her gaze towards the City of Brotherly Love in Game 3.

"When you put to pucks into our own net, it makes for a very tough game," said Kotalik referring to both of Peter Forsberg's goals which deflected off Sabres players. "It's a tough game to come back in, especially in this building."

"They have tremendous players," Ruff said. "Forsberg can win a game by himself and he made a difference tonight. He got a couple of lucky bounces, but he made a difference."

After being held scoreless in the first two games of the series, Maxim Afinogenov recorded a pair of assists, while Ryan Miller finished the game with 23 saves.

Buffalo took the lead just three minutes into the first period after scoring the first goal of the game for the third time in the series.

Receiving a pass from Afinogenov from the boards, Kotalik spun and fired a blind shot from the slot that beat Robert Esche five-hole at 2:37.

Philadelphia tied the game shorthanded with 26 seconds remaining in Peter Forsberg's charging penalty. Intercepting an arrant pass by Connelly in the neutral zone, Savage raced inside Buffalo's blueline and ripped a slapshot from the top of the right face-off circle that beat Miller on the short side for his first goal of the playoffs at the 6:35 mark.

"I think that Ryan would really like that one back," said Ruff. "It's a tough goal to give-up."

The Flyers took its first lead of the series with consecutive goals that were credited to Forsberg off a couple rough bounces for Buffalo.

Cutting to the left corner, Brian Campbell slapped the puck off Forsberg's stick only to have it redirect off Jay McKee's skate and into the net at 6:57 of the second to make the score 2-1 in favor of Philadelphia.

Forsberg recorded his second of the evening and the Flyers third goal on the team's fourth power play. Skating towards the back of the net from the left corner, Forsberg snapped a wristshot from behind the goal line that deflected off the back of Miller's right arm into the net at 12:37.

Buffalo closed to within a goal after converting on the rush. Cruising down the right wing, Afinogenov feathered a centering pass to Dmitri Kalinin, who tipped the feed across to Connolly on the left wing. The center gained control and fired top shelf for his second goal of the series at 4:44 of the third.

Simon Gagne sealed the victory after scoring an empty net goal with 15.2 seconds remaining on the clock.
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Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.
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