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Sabres show heart in defeat

When any team – especially one filled with young players – endures a loss as grievous as what the Buffalo Sabres suffered Saturday in Boston, you have to wonder what kind of carryover effect it might have.

The gift-wrapped penalty shot goal Brad Marchand scored in overtime was a stunner to the Sabres and had to be tough to shake as they returned to practice Monday.

“I had some concern,” coach Dan Bylsma admitted after Wednesday’s workout in HarborCenter. “Maybe felt it the last two days at practice and going into the game.”

The scenario was certainly borne out Tuesday against Florida. The Sabres were down, 3-0, after the first period and fell into a 4-0 hole in the first minute of the second. First Niagara Center fans, content to watch individual development and not fret over scoreboard or standings most of the time this year, unleashed their loudest torrent of boos all season.

The game finished as a 7-4 loss but it was far from the disaster it could have been. Evander Kane finally energized the crowd with three spirited beatdowns of Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic and the Sabres twice missed goal-mouth chances that could have cut their deficit to a goal.

For a team struggling to stay out of the NHL basement for a third straight year, there’s still plenty of resilience. The hope is that more of that comes out Thursday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers.

“We’re down 4-0 and we battled,” said captain Brian Gionta. “We never gave up in that game, so that’s a huge sign to me. We battled back, got within two, had a couple more chances, had some momentum going. It’s 4-2 and that fifth goal for them was tough. But in light of how things started, we kept going and that’s good to see.”

The Sabres got back in the game by drawing penalties and getting back-to-back power-play goals from Sam Reinhart. He has pushed his season total to 16, and is now tied with Jack Eichel and one off Ryan O’Reilly’s team lead.

“We got the power plays but we fought hard for those power-play goals,” Bylsma said. “That was some of the highest battle and desperation we’ve had to claw back into that game. I know that about our team. There has never been a quit in our team. We were disappointed and know we played poorly at the start of that game. They’re also a team that’s shown they’re not going to stop competing, not going to quit.”

The Sabres have slipped into an 0-1-2 rut after two straight wins and Bylsma wants to arrest that slide right now. He’s quick to note his team is 6-5-2 in its last 13 after ending a six-game losing streak.

“I think we’ve played pretty hard and pretty well,” Bylsma said. “We’ve been pushing for points and pushing for wins. There was disappointment not only in Boston but at home against Boston losing in a shootout. I did feel some disappointment in our team and we were disappointed with how we played that game (against Florida). It’s not going to get any different. Playing Philadelphia in their building is something where we’re going to have to have a bounceback game.”

The Flyers have lost three straight, getting just two goals from their forwards in that stretch. They’re coming off Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Anaheim. A win Thursday would give the Sabres their first season sweep against the Flyers since 2001-02; Buffalo won both meetings in October.

“It’s another huge game and that’s how we have to look at it. They’re seven points ahead of us and it’s a swing game,” Gionta said. “You still have to look it from the standpoint of taking your opportunities to try to catch some teams.”

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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