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Sturm leaves tip for Bruins Sabres stymied in bid for third straight win Bizarre goal gives Boston a 4-3 win with 52.3 seconds left in overtime

A bizarre finish in overtime left the Buffalo Sabres struggling to digest Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Which approach should they take? On one hand, you could wonder where the club's legs were for the first 37 minutes before its offense got on the scoreboard. On the other hand, you have to laud yet another comeback from a two-goal deficit and a third-period attack that produced 15 shots, two goals and several other chances.

You have to give it up to a power play that benefited from the return of defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who assisted on two goals and was involved in several nifty passing plays.

But you have to keep wondering about goaltender Ryan Miller, who was badly outplayed by Boston's Tim Thomas. Miller gave up a soft second-period goal and was victimized by a game-winning blooper that was credited to Marco Sturm with 52.3 seconds left in OT. Thomas made 27 saves, Miller 20.

"You feel bad anytime a bad goal goes in but we're in a little bit of a habit of not getting teams down," said coach Lindy Ruff. "We've got to battle back. Bad breaks, bad bounces, bad goals can hurt you. A lot of things can hurt you when teams still hang around."

An obviously frustrated Miller wasn't around to talk to reporters after this one. He downright flubbed Phil Kessel's second-period wrist shot that leaked between his pads and gave Boston a 2-0 lead. And he'll probably spend a good deal of time reliving Sturm's goofy game-winner.

The goal was Boston's only shot in the OT. Defenseman Aaron Ward lofted a blooper from the right point and Sturm, standing in the circle to Miller's left, whacked at the puck and barely touched it as it went into the net.

Spacek also was trying to knock down the puck but didn't connect. Officials reviewed the play but determined Sturm didn't hit it with a high stick.

"He got it up here," Spacek said, pointing by his shoulder. "It looked to me like it could have been a high stick."

"We didn't give up much all night," Ruff said. "It's a situation where you kind of get an alley-oop at the end and you get beat. I thought we showed a lot of battle to get back in it."

The loss denied Buffalo's bid for its first three-game winning streak on the road this season. The Sabres returned home after the game and will meet the Florida Panthers tonight at 7:30 in HSBC Arena. After that comes a huge stretch: Beginning Monday night in Montreal, the Sabres play nine straight games within the Northeast Division.

A generously announced crowd of 13,479 in TD Banknorth Garden included many Buffalo fans. And they made themselves heard when Maxim Afinogenov scored with 2:29 left in the second period to pull the Sabres within 2-1 and again when Brian Campbell scored 2:09 into the third to tie the game.

Marc Savard gave Boston a 3-2 lead 59 seconds later by finishing a two-on-one with a wrist shot that rattled home past Miller off the left goal post.

Paul Gaustad tied it for the Sabres at 8:18 on the end of some sensational passing from the power-play unit. Ales Kotalik made a nifty touch pass at the blue line, helping the puck reach Spacek in the corner. He fed it to Gaustad, who chipped it home for his fourth goal of the season -- all on the power play.

"We passed the puck good on the power play," Spacek said. "I watched [while out with the injury] and you could see it was going too slow. We got the puck moving better."

Newly christened captain Toni Lydman left with 7:02 to go in the second period after sliding to block a shot from Glen Metropolit and taking it on the side of the mouth. He took several stitches but came back in the third period. Just like the team did.

"Our attitude is we're going to come right back at it," Gaustad said. "It's not going to kill us. Like we did last year, we battled back in those situations. It's tough we didn't get both points tonight but we showed character coming back."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

***

Bruins 4

Sabres 3 (OT)

Slap shots: Sturm tip-in is overtime winner. . . . Sabres rally from 2-0 deficit to force OT. . . . Buffalo denied first three-game winning streak. Fast fact: The Sabres have given up the first goal in eight of their 11 games.

Next game: Tonight vs. Florida Panthers, 7:30 in HSBC Arena.

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