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Sabres receive a jolt Losing streak is first of the season Tampa Bay strikes for five goals in first two periods

It's easy to blame Ryan Miller. He definitely made mistakes.

He was far from alone.

It was clear from the opening minutes the Buffalo Sabres were in trouble Thursday. Tampa Bay was consistently a step ahead, and often it was more strides than that. When the Sabres did catch up, they couldn't make much happen anyway.

It didn't take long for the Lightning to start scoring pretty goals. Then it was scoring ugly goals. It was soon scoring goals that had no business going in.

When it was over, the Sabres trudged to the dressing room with their first losing streak of the season. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, showed what all the offseason fuss was about.

The Lightning blitzed the Sabres, 5-2, handing Buffalo its second straight ugly loss in HSBC Arena. The score was 5-1 with five minutes left in the second period, and Tampa Bay was able to use cruise control from there.

"I think we're lucky they only got five. I really do," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "You might not like some of the goals, but there wasn't a lot to like about anybody on the team: forwards, defense, goaltender. It was a tough effort.

"I can't stand here and try to find anything good. . . . I'm not going to make any excuses. They were the better team. They won the battles. They skated better, and they were a lot better with the puck. That showed."

The Sabres had a stated goal of avoiding two straight losses, but there was no chance of that. Tampa Bay was moving through the Sabres' zone at will early on, and it had a 3-1 lead after one period.

The third goal, with 25.4 seconds left, should have been stopped. Miller had a clear look at Ryan Malone's shot from the left faceoff circle, but the puck still carried past the goaltender. It sapped the Sabres' momentum from Clarke MacArthur's goal that made it 2-1.

"I would have liked to have the third one back, just bad time for the boys," said Miller, who made 24 saves and got beaten between the pads on Tampa Bay's fourth goal. "I wasn't real thrilled with some of the goals, but that will happen from time to time.

"I'm pretty sure the coaches had a nice long discussion about whether to keep me in or not, and to keep me in there and let me work through it is probably going to be a lot bigger benefit than pulling me out and letting me snap a stick over a concrete wall."

The way the Sabres are shooting and passing, their stick might miss a concrete wall. They blew several point-blank chances, including two by Thomas Vanek that had the sniper looking skyward in angst. Vanek scored on the power play late in the second, but it was of little consequence by then.

"No excuse, they were definitely better all game, and they deserved to win," Vanek said. "Even though they outplayed us, I had two chances to get us within one, and I missed them both. It shouldn't happen."

The Lightning offense, which was scoring just 1.8 goals per game, finally had the coming-out party that was long expected. It was led by highly hyped Steven Stamkos. The top overall pick in June's draft scored the first two goals of his career.

"We really played our best game," the 18-year-old Stamkos said. "We've been doing things the last few games that we weren't doing in the beginning of the season."

Tampa Bay had the pinpoint passing the Sabres showed in opening 6-0-1. They are now winless in three straight (0-2-1), and it could reach four Saturday against Washington if they don't get it back. Ruff and Miller also said it'll take a team effort, not the solo performances Buffalo has tried the past couple of games.

"We proved it last year that it's not going to work, so I don't see why we should continue to do it this year," Miller said. "Maybe we're just a little stubborn, and maybe we feel like we played some good, tight games and maybe we deserve a chance to freewheel."

Thursday, all they deserved was a loss.

"They got some rushes right off the bat, and we just weren't ready, just like last game," MacArthur said. "Get in a hole like that, and it's hard to get out of."


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