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Sabres recover for point Overcome sloppy start but fall in shootout

The Buffalo Sabres played half a game. It's why they got only half of the points available.

The Sabres received the first blemish on their record Saturday, as they dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to Atlanta. It's no mystery why they are 4-0-1 instead of 5-0. They played a lackluster opening 30 minutes, and the Thrashers were determined to jump on a tired opponent in half-empty Philips Arena.

The Sabres fell into a 2-0 first-period hole, and they were fortunate it wasn't deeper. But they changed everything in the final 35 minutes. They skated harder. They created more chances. They played better defense. And they scored twice, including Jason Pominville's tying goal with 3:08 left in regulation.

If their start had matched their finish, they could have gotten two points instead of one.

"I don't know if it was fatigue or whatever, but we didn't come out ready to play. It's as simple as that," said defenseman Henrik Tallinder, whose team played Friday night in Buffalo. "It's a tough schedule, but everybody has it, so you can't really blame that."

Nor could anyone blame Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime, who shared top-star billing with Atlanta counterpart Kari Lehtonen. They baffled shooters at both ends of the ice. Lalime finished with 35 saves, while Lehtonen made 28.

Lalime was the brightest start, and he preferred to look on the bright side for the Sabres.

"To look at the positives," he said, "we played pretty good in the last couple periods. We came back and got a good point."

There's no doubt the rally was impressive. The Sabres looked dead, and they were getting outshot, 27-10, midway through the second period. But two parts of their game that are on -- Thomas Vanek and the power play -- sparked them to life.

Atlanta took penalties 51 seconds apart, giving the Sabres an extended five-on-three. Vanek capitalized with three minutes left in the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1.

The left winger circled toward the slot, and just as he was about to exit the left faceoff circle, he uncorked a cannon into the top right corner that Lehtonen had no chance at. It was Vanek's league-leading seventh goal.

The Sabres were a completely different team in the third period, and with that change they completely dominated. They had a 9-4 shots edge, but Lehtonen kept the Thrashers in front before finally cracking with 3:08 left.

Pominville chased down Eric Boulton in the Atlanta zone, stole the puck and took a shot that bounced off Lehtonen's glove. Pominville got to the rebound and deposited his next shot to start a raucous celebration by a large group of Sabres fans in the corner of the arena.

"Once we got going the way we usually play, we had a lot of opportunities," Pominville said. "We didn't get the start we wanted, and hopefully we can learn from this. You've got to play 60 minutes."

The Sabres nearly won in the closing seconds of overtime, but Ales Kotalik couldn't get good wood on a bouncing puck. Atlanta scored twice in the shootout to offset Drew Stafford's goal.

"I was disappointed for giving up the tying goal," Lehtonen said. "But just before overtime there is time to regroup. Then I was excited to go out and get two points."

The Sabres were a mess in the opening period. They took too many penalties, giving the Thrashers three power plays. That led to a lack of offensive flow, illustrated by Atlanta's 19-6 edge in shots in the opening 20 minutes. And the Sabres were sloppy defensively, allowing odd-man rushes and breakaways.

"They smoked us in the first 20," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "If it wasn't for Patty making some big saves during the penalty killing, the score probably could have been worse coming out of the first."

The Sabres will likely stay away from the rink today before preparing for Tuesday's meeting with Boston in HSBC Arena.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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