A substantial reason the Buffalo Sabres rose to prominence last season was because they rolled opponents in the third period. Few teams knew how to close out a game better.
This season, the Sabres haven't been nearly as adept at slamming the door.
The Sabres on Saturday went into the third period tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning and surrendered another late goal to lose, 3-2, and drop their third straight game in HSBC Arena.
"I don't think it happens in the third period, to be honest," Sabres winger Jason Pominville said. "Throughout the game we need to be better and better from the start and cut back on turnovers and throw more pucks to the net."
The Sabres had an astonishing 30 giveaways and allowed a third-period goal for the 14th straight game. They've gone 7-6 with an overtime loss in that span and have lost four of their last six games.
Brad Richards delivered the latest blow 6:56 into the final frame. Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger made a no-look, backhand pass from the high slot to Richards in the right circle for the one-timer Sabres goalie Ryan Miller couldn't stop.
"We went at it as hard as we could in the third," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We gave them absolutely nothing in our end except Richards' shot, and Millsie would want to have that one back. But we're not finishing and we haven't got the key save at the key time.
"From a puck-pressure standpoint and playing in the offensive zone against a team that was trying to hang back, I thought, overall, we created enough chances to at least tie the game and probably win it."
Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek almost tied the game with 5:09 left when his long slap shot struck the right post. They couldn't score on a power play that began with 2:56 to play and a furious sequence with an extra attacker that had Lightning goalie Marc Denis scrambling at the end of the game.
"We generated a lot of chances, especially in the last five minutes," Sabres center Derek Roy said. "A couple saves that he made, he didn't even know where the puck was."
Pominville and Ales Kotalik scored goals 44 seconds apart to give the Sabres a 2-1 lead early in the second period. Vincent Lecavalier and Dan Boyle potted Tampa Bay's first two goals.
Power-play troubles hurt the Sabres again. They were unsuccessful on six chances, including three in the first period. The Lightning scored once on two power plays in winning their fourth straight game.
"We didn't do a good job," Ruff said. "If you look at the giveaways in the game, that was the one area that concerned me. Some of those giveaways were on the power play and were uncontested giveaways."
Maxim Afinogenov led the Sabres with six giveaways, while linemates Roy and Thomas Vanek had four apiece. The Lightning had 10.
"I just don't think we're desperate enough," Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said. "There were a lot of turnovers, and I'm not saying it's the guy with the puck all the time. Sometimes it's the guy away from the puck, the guys that aren't finding holes or getting open for your partner."
Lecavalier gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal 10:05 into the game. Fellow All-Star Martin St. Louis fended off Sabres winger Teppo Numminen below the goal line and slipped a pass through the crease to Lecavalier in the slot, where he scored his 17th goal in 22 games.
St. Louis' assist gave him a point in 10 straight games, the longest active streak in the league and two games short of the season's longest.
Pominville pounced during a commotion in which Denis lost his stick. Moments after co-captain Daniel Briere just missed on stuffing a backhander inside the post, Pominville sent the puck through the goalie's legs 4:06 into the second period.
Pominville, who scored 18 times in 57 games last season as a rookie, has 20 goals. He joined Chris Drury, Thomas Vanek and Afinogenov as Sabres with at least that many. No other NHL club had more than two 20-goal scorers entering Saturday night's schedule.
Kotalik gave Buffalo a 2-1 edge with a searing wrister from the outside of the right circle that zipped through Denis' legs at 4:50.
"As much as you hate [soft goals], they happen every night in the NHL," Denis said. "But it says a lot about this hockey team. Maybe earlier in the season a back-breaker like that, maybe the game would have been over. It didn't faze us."
Tampa Bay tied the score with 4:22 remaining in the second period on Boyle's rising slapper from the blue line.