OTTAWA -- The crisis in Sabreland was clearly deepening Tuesday night. The last eight minutes of the second period in Canadian Tire Centre were a minefield, as the Sabres allowed the Ottawa Senators to pepper the net with 14 unanswered shots on goal.
Robin Lehner stopped the final 11, keeping Buffalo's deficit at 2-1, but you had wonder how serious things might be getting in the wake of the turmoil that surrounded Sunday's loss against Vancouver. Another bad defeat here combined with a stinker Thursday at home against hapless Colorado could have had coach Dan Bylsma needing to shore up his resume.
Don't think so? Anything is possible behind NHL benches these days, a fact made more clear by Tuesday's bombshell in Montreal that saw the first-place Habs dump Michel Therrien -- the man Bylsma replaced during his 2009 Stanley Cup season in Pittsburgh -- and replace him with deposed Boston coach Claude Julien.
The players in the Buffalo dressing room needed a big third period and, frankly, Bylsma probably did too. It happened just as they desperately hoped it would.
Goals by Matt Moulson and Justin Bailey put the Sabres in front and Lehner made it stand up over the final 12 minutes for a thrilling 3-2 victory over the Senators. Buffalo continued to frustrate Ottawa, completing a 4-0-1 season series advantage.
It was the Sabres' seventh win of the season when trailing after two periods, tied with Pittsburgh and Montreal for the NHL lead. Ottawa had been 18-1-1 when leading after two.
"There's a reason why we were frustrated these last couple days because we know we're good, we know we have capability," said Lehner, who stopped 39 of 41 shots. "We know the personnel in this room. The fact we can pull that off in the third is great but you don't want to be in that position. We have to learn second periods a little bit better, and it will be a lot easier down the road."
Bylsma said he was encouraged by what he saw for about 11 minutes in the second as Buffalo outshot the Sens, 7-2. But Tyler Ennis and Derek Grant overstayed a shift and Ottawa defenseman Dion Phaneuf corraled the puck and went the other way. Charging hard to the net, Phaneuf poked a loose puck out from under Lehner's glove after the Buffalo goaltender stopped Bobby Ryan's shot to give the Senators a 2-1 lead and put the Sabres in meltdown mode.
"To be honest, we had a solid second today until that point," Lehner said. "That 2-1 goal is a mix of me being slow and a little bit of a slash. We played decent and they came with a push where they threw everything at the net and got a bunch of shots. I think we came back hard in the third."
Sure did. Jack Eichel drove the net hard, Sam Reinhart plopped the puck in the air and Moulson tipped it home at 51 seconds. At 7:38, Bailey got his second of the season -- and first NHL game-winner -- with a mid-air tip of Jake McCabe's shot from the left point.
"That's maybe not the typical goal you'll see from Bailey being at the net front," Bylsma said. "He's more of a shot/skating guy but he put himself in a good position. It was a great play from Jake putting the puck at the net."
"I liked the way we came out and played from behind and then the change of playing with the lead was good," Reinhart said. "It's been a while since we've played with a lead. I liked the way we managed the puck."
Bailey tied for team-high honors with four shots on goal and was skating well all night.
"In callups before, there were nights I did that and nights I wasn't doing it," he said. "That's not good enough to stay up here. This time, I've been doing the most to have my feet going."
Lehner improved to 4-0-2 against his old team with a stunning 1.30 goals-against average and .959 save percentage. He stymied Mike Hoffman in the final minute to preserve his 15th win of the year.
"Every win is nice. We want to keep winning," Lehner said. "We want to take these next three games one at a time, have a bye week to gather some strength, come back for a last push."
"It's something that's good to see at a young age, how the leaders step up and how guys respond to things like this," Bailey said. "Even tonight, most teams going through some turmoil when you get down, it could hurt you. We did a great job responding."
The Sabres have alternated loss-win for eight straight games in February, going 4-3-1 this month. They host the Avalanche Thursday looking for their first winning streak of the month.
"We have to follow this up," said captain Brian Gionta. "It feels good now and it's a big win for us. But if we don't follow it up on Thursday, it's for naught."
Bylsma knows it would be good if his team could get some momentum as well. What happened Tuesday in Montreal, with Julien replacing Therrien just as he did in 2003, has to be sobering for all NHL coaches.
"I've followed Michel Therrien as a coach previously," he said. "He did a great job in Pittsburgh putting in a foundation and a plan and giving structure to a team. I thought he did the same thing going to Montreal for that team. It's disappointing to see coaches get whacked and to see him get fired."