The Buffalo Sabres have learned a lot during the past season and a half. They've learned how to win, how to come from behind and how to defy expectations.
Ryan Miller thinks they have one more thing to learn.
The Sabres gave up a 2-1 lead in the third period to Columbus on Friday night, and the Blue Jackets skated off with a 3-2 victory in electrified Nationwide Arena. The Sabres fell to 24-2-2 when leading after two periods, but those four setbacks are too many for Miller.
"I liked the way we started the game, and I liked the way we played the second. I don't think the third was very good," Miller said. "We had a few chances and we didn't trail off, but I just get this impression that we need to change the game around to play defense.
"Our game is puck control, complemented by defense. I think we need torealize that that's the way it has to go. When [coach] Lindy [Ruff] talks about a lockdown mode, so to speak, I don't think he's talking about just sit back and play defense. He's talking about just be smart. I think once we learn the difference, we're going to be able to shut teams down. There's a big difference between sitting back and playing defense, and making smart plays and playing defense."
The Blue Jackets took advantage of the Sabres' defensive play in the third period. Rostislav Klesla scored five minutes in to tie the game, and Dan Fritsche scored with 10:37 remaining to win it. Miller got his right pad on Fritsche's first chance, but the Blue Jacket backhanded the rebound into the net.
"That was one of our best third periods," Columbus left wing Rick Nash said. "Everyone was working."
The Sabres dominated the second period to get their 2-1 lead. But they couldn't score that backbreaking third goal despite taking 16 shots in the period -- including a penalty shot.
"Three-one in the third is a completely different game," said Sabres co-captain Chris Drury, who scored both Buffalo goals on the power play. "We certainly had a lot of chances in the second. It gives them some life going into the third, and they took advantage of it."
The Sabres' best chance to deflate the Blue Jackets came with 18 seconds left in the second. Daniel Paille raced to center ice to collect a clearing pass and had a clean path to the net. Paille had his head down for much of the journey, so goalie Fredrik Norrena came out to challenge the rookie.
As Paille attempted to go around the goaltender and deposit a backhand, Norrena's stick slid out of his hand. The puck went wide, and the referee quickly signaled for a penalty shot. Norrena got a piece of Paille's shot and sent it over the net.
"We had our opportunity to put them away. We didn't," Ruff said. "Danny Paille missed an empty net, Ales Kotalik fanned on what probably would have been a pretty easy goal, but if you have nine or 10 opportunities to score, you've got to put two or three away. We didn't. There's always that danger if you don't."
The crowd of 18,136 was fiercely split in terms of loyalty, and fans for each side had their chance to cheer in the first period.
The Blue Jackets opened the scoring on the power play with 7:51 gone. Sergei Fedorov threw a no-look backhand pass to the front of the net for Nash, whose shot from the slot bounced off Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen and through the legs of Miller.
The Sabres tied the score less than four minutes later with their first power-play goal of the night. Daniel Briere passed to Drury near the goal line at the left side of the net, and Drury took three unobstructed strides before lifting the puck in the top of the net with 4:03 left.