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Sabres look for bounceback in finale of Western trip

VANCOUVER -- Forget about getting one mere point in a road game. That's not what the Buffalo Sabres want this year, even with Jack Eichel and Evander Kane out of the lineup for the forseeable future.

The Sabres had three leads Tuesday in Calgary, including two in the third period. They lost the game in overtime, 4-3. So practice here was workmanlike on Wednesday as the Western road trip moved to its third and final stop. The Sabres meet the Vancouver Canucks Thursday in Rogers Arena, looking to possibly come home with five out of six points.

They already have three in the bank after opening the trip with a solid win in Edmonton. But that's not enough. The standard is completely different this year.

"It has to be for sure," said winger Sam Reinhart, a Vancouver native making his second return home in the NHL.  "Coming right from day one of training camp, two weeks before the season started, our whole roster minus a couple guys at the World Cup was ready and excited to get going. That was part of the reason why, the mentality around the room.

"If you look around the league, playoff teams need to find ways to win games when they're not playing their best. You're going to have games like that. When you're that close, with two leads in the third period, it was a tough one to swallow."

It was particularly tough for Reinhart, who was plummeted from behind by Calgary's Sean Monahan a few seconds before Monahan scored the winning goal. The Sabres were outraged at the lack of a cross-checking call on the play in the immediate aftermath of the game but Reinhart took the high road Wednesday.

"It's over. But I didn't dive. I can tell you that," Reinhart deadpanned. "We can talk about that all day but it's more important to look at what we could have done better. We gave ourselves a chance to win even when we weren't playing our best. It's tough we weren't able to do that, all that being said."

The Sabres were disappointed with their power play going just 1 for 5 in the game, including a failed two-man advantage. Still, they entered Wednesday seventh in the NHL with a 25 percent rating on the power play (4 for 16), and one of three teams perfect on the penalty kill at 9 for 9.

"We're going out there with a purpose, whether it's to kill it or create offense," Reinhart said. "We've had our fair share of practice and I know that's helped us."

The Sabres are 1-1-1 on the season and can get above .500 for the first time since they were 2-1 on Jan. 24, 2013, the third game of the lockout season. Most of Wednesday's session was spent on the man-advantage units, which have needed quite a bit of retooling due to the injuries.

"We still have implementation and development to do with the groups," said coach Dan Bylsma. "You get an opportunity for a 5-on-3, 4-on-3 not very often enough. When you get the opportunity, you want to be ready for it.

"After three games, if you say your power play is 4 for 16 and your penalty kill is what it is, I think you've got to be pretty happy with that scenario. You talk about keys to winning hockey games and winning the special teams battle in the game is a big factor. Unfortunately, we've won all three games but only have one win to show for it."

Heading into Wednesday's action, the Sabres joined Florida and Minnesota as the only NHL teams yet to allow a power-play goal. The Wild's penalty killers are 11 for 11, and Florida is 7 for 7. The Sabres killed off six penalties Tuesday in Calgary, which allowed them to stay in the game. They just didn't come up with the one final goal they needed.

"I like the fact that the onus is on us, how we need to play, how we can play," Bylsma said. "I think you hear that and see that with our players being disappointed in last night's game. It's not so much about what the Calgary Flames did. It's about what we did or didn't do."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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