Strong start is wasted as Sabres can't stand prosperity - The Buffalo News
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Strong start is wasted as Sabres can't stand prosperity

This was not your run-of-the-mill loss for the Buffalo Sabres. The anger after Thursday's meltdown against Boston was palpable.

There was Jack Eichel pounding his stick on the ice at the final buzzer and sitting steely eyed in the locker room while shaking his head and talking to captain Brian Gionta. There was the screaming voice of an unidentified player in a restricted area of the room letting the profanity fly. And there was the clenched jaw of coach Dan Bylsma as he appeared for his post-game news conference, trying to decipher what had happened.

The Sabres easily played their best first period of the season and were full marks for a 2-0 lead over the Bruins. In the end, it meant nothing.

Boston rallied for two goals in the second, then rode Ryan Spooner's goal with 3:53 left and his empty netter in the final minute to a 4-2 victory. It came in the opener of a home-and-home series the Sabres hoped would resuscitate their playoff hopes. Riiiiight.

Playoffs? The Sabres wake up Friday morning in last place by themselves in the Atlantic Division and tied for the cellar in the Eastern Conference with the New York Islanders.

And don't just focus on the fact the Sabres failed to pick up any ground on the Bruins either. By the end of the night, things turned completely disastrous as Buffalo was the only one of the eight Atlantic teams that failed to get a point.

In addition to the Bruins getting two points here, overtime decisions were won by Montreal at Florida, by Toronto at Tampa Bay and by Detroit at Ottawa. Buffalo is eight points behind the Bruins and the playoff cut line but it gets worse: The Sabres are six behind the Lightning, five behind the Maple Leafs and four in arrears of the Panthers as well.

If the Sabres lose to the Bruins Saturday in TD Garden, especially if they fall in regulation, it will border on silliness for anyone in this organization to be thinking playoffs.

That's a shame because this team is capable of good hockey in stretches. But only stretches.

Marcus Foligno and Kyle Okposo scored in the first period Thursday to produce a 2-0 lead as the Sabres outshot the Bruins, 16-9, and outhit them, 14-5.

"That was a great first period by us, about our best period all year with the emotion, goals, the way we came out hitting," said Foligno, who opened the scoring at 1:32. "It's frustrating, something when you lay off the gas pedal a bit and in a split second it's in your net."

"It was most definitely I think our best and most emotional first period of the season," Bylsma said. "It was just how we wanted to come out, how we wanted to play. There was some energy in that period."

Over the final two periods, Boston had a 29-17 advantage in shots on goal and the teams were even in hits at 13-13. The Sabres' physical play went away as they were credited with just four hits in the final 20 minutes.

"We just exhaled," was the succinct analysis of veteran defenseman Josh Gorges. "We got a lead, felt a little comfortable and we stopped doing the little details, the things that made us successful in the first period. We gave them a little life and then after that it was going to be a game decided on a good play or a broken-down play."

The Sabres, of course, have no right to ever feel comfortable. And it should be noted they blew a pair of two-goal leads Thursday in Detroit before pulling out a 4-3 victory. There was no such reprieve this time.

Spooner's winning goal, a one-timed slapshot from the slot, came on a great pass from David Krejci. Johan Larsson couldn't get out high fast enough to cut off the pass and then combined with Justin Falk to screen Robin Lehner, who clearly had no chance on the play as the puck whizzed by his blocker.

The Bruins gave the Sabres fits with their forechecking as the game wore on and Buffalo didn't have many answers.

"We didn't do enough to stop their momentum," Okposo said. "They started to make plays, come back with their push. They're a veteran squad that will have that when we come out and dominate a first period like we did."

"Those guys can buzz," Foligno said. "They have little guys who can get on the forecheck and skate. They kept coming and coming and unfortunately we didn't have an answer."

The Sabres better find some answers Saturday in Boston.

"You think about it tonight, learn from your mistakes," Gorges said. "Each guy in this room has to do the old look-in-the-mirror, see what they did, what they need to do better."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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