PHILADELPHIA – It had all the makings of a terrible loss. It certainly became one, though not by the team everyone expected to lose.
The Sabres were in such control Tuesday night that a large number of Flyers fans never returned from the second intermission. Buffalo held a commanding 3-0 lead, so people started filing out of Wells Fargo Center to get home early.
The Sabres took off during the third period, too. The result was colossal collapse that provides the team with a major early season test of its psyche.
Buffalo allowed three power-play goals during the third period, including two in the final three minutes, to let Philadelphia storm back for a stunning 4-3 shootout victory.
“We gave them that,” Sabres left wing Matt Moulson said. “You have to put teams away, especially when you have that kind of lead.”
Instead of putting the Flyers away, the Sabres got sloppy with the puck, their discipline and their tenacity. Philadelphia had a 19-5 shot advantage during the third period to erase Buffalo’s lead and confidence.
“We controlled the game for the first two periods, then we kind of backed off in the third and let them in the game,” Sabres goaltender Anders Nilsson said. “We weren’t able to close it out. Unfortunately, this one slipped out of our hands.”
Instead of improving to 2-2-1 with a solid road victory, Buffalo fell to 1-2-2.
“We get a 3-0 lead going into the third, this one should be completely summed up and over with,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “We have to learn how to play with that lead. We have to learn how to close those games out.
“Each group, each team has to come together and grow together to learn how to win. We are still in that process with our group.”
Penalties ended up killing the Sabres. Hudson Fasching took a tripping penalty 2:55 into the third period, and the Flyers made it 3-1. Dmitry Kulikov took a charging penalty with 3:20 remaining, and the Flyers made it 3-2 just 24 seconds later. Sam Reinhart took a high-sticking penalty with 2:27 left, and the Flyers tied the game with 1:51 to go.
“At the end it got pretty tough,” Reinhart said. “If we simplify our game in that third period, we come out with a win. If you give them opportunities, more times than not they are going to make you pay for it.
“There’s no reason to sit back. That wasn’t our mentality going out by any means, but it seems that’s the way it played out.”
Bylsma was more upset with what happened prior to the penalties than the calls themselves.
“We took those penalties because we turned over the puck,” Bylsma said. “We turned over the puck at the blue line. That led to the Kulikov penalty. We turned the puck over at the other blue line, and we took a penalty because of the turnover. Both of those were pucks that ended up in the back of our net.
“That is more of a concern than the number of penalties we’re taking.”
What will become a bigger concern is if the Sabres let this loss linger. It’s the type of demoralizing blow that can stick around and create nervous looks during third periods.
“We have to learn from situations like this,” Moulson said. “That’s all you can do. You have to learn from it and learn what it takes to win.”