For a while there the Buffalo Sabres had all the charm of the underdog. They would get a late goal to tie the Rangers. An overtime goal to beat Edmonton. Another late goal to tie Detroit.
But you had to wonder. Isn't the team that drives in the fast lane des-
Francis stripped of captaincy / B3
tined to ultimately careen off the retaining wall?
Yes, indeed. Previous Aud results indicated that Friday night's excruciating 4-3 loss to the Hartford Whalers before 15,667 was an accident waiting to happen.
The Sabres had taken a 3-2 lead a scant 48 seconds from the end of regulation on Dale Hawerchuk's 35-foot slap shot off a nifty open-ice rush. The traffic-beaters headed for their cars.
But few fans had donned their coats and descended the stairs before Hartford's ubiquitous Pat Verbeek scored for the second time with 30 seconds left.
The goal came as the Sabres botched a breakout from their zone.
The replay of that goal came 53 seconds into overtime when, under near-identical circumstances, Whalers defenseman Scott Young beat goaltender Clint Malarchuk with an uncontested 15-footer.
Young found his opening after the Whalers deflected Jay Wells' ill-advised attempt to clear the corner by way of the middle.
"I was trying to get it across but . . . a little screw up on my behalf," Wells said. "That's what happens. That was it.
"Forty-eight seconds left, we think we got the game in the bag," Wells said. "Then all of a sudden the roof falls in. We'll have to put it behind us. Hopefully we'll learn from our mistakes and be better for it."
Orchard Park native Todd Krygier had the other Hartford goal, while Mike Hartman and Wells also scored for Buffalo.
The loss toppled the house of cards the Sabres had built into an eight-game home-ice unbeaten streak (4-0-4).
Meanwhile, Hartford picked up its sixth straight road victory -- and more.
The loss dropped the Sabres one point behind the third-place Whalers in the Adams Division.
The defeat also magnified the troubles Buffalo is having within the Adams Division, where it is a distressing 3-6-3.
"The problem is more mental than anything else," assessed Sabres captain Mike Foligno. "It's just, you got to believe in yourself. We're getting over the hump slowly. We're starting to win, we're starting to string games together here and there.
"It seems like when we get a one-goal or two-goal lead, we want to sit back. We don't keep doing the things that got us a one- or two-goal lead. I think it's just a mental thing where we got to get more aggressive mentally."
The teams entered the third period tied, 1-1, after exchanging goals by Hartman and Krygier.
Verbeek presented Hartford its first lead at 12:40.
He tallied from point-blank range off a pass from Krygier after moving unchecked into the low slot.
But Wells retaliated one minute later. Tripped by the leg of Mikael Andersson, Wells was fluttering toward the ice head first. But he slapped at the puck just before he was grounded and the 10-footer popped by goaltender Peter Sidorkiewicz.
Alexander Mogilny set up the goal by holding off defenseman Randy Ladouceur on a power move toward the net, setting up the final, frenzied minutes of regulation.