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Sabres loss is cause for concern

On Tuesday, it will be a full month since Terry Pegula took over as the Sabres' owner. It has been quite an emotional whirlwind. Pegula has elevated the team and the town, giving fans a surge of belief, a sense that exciting things could be in store.

Then they turn into the same old Sabres and make you want to slam your head against the nearest wall. They did it again Sunday, blowing a two-goal lead in the final 2:27 of regulation and losing in overtime to Nashville, 4-3.

They insist on making things difficult for themselves, don't they? It doesn't seem to matter who owns the team, or who provides the opposition. Just when you start to believe they've turned a corner, the Sabres find some maddening new way to throw away a game and get booed off their home ice.

Another sellout crowd barely had time to process the latest blown two-goal lead (their seventh, tied for the NHL lead) when Martin Erat put the puck behind Ryan Miller 27 seconds into OT to end it. That's three goals in the last 2:54.

These are the moments when it seems overly generous to give teams a point for losing in overtime. The Sabres deserved no reward for this one. Yes, it puts them three up on Carolina for the final playoff spot. But it had the feel of a squandered point that might come back to haunt them three weeks from now.

"This one's definitely a tough one, a tough point to give up," said Jason Pominville. "We've talked about getting better with leads and [Sunday] just wasn't good enough. We've got to be better with these leads. We can't give up points like that."

The Sabres have done an admirable job climbing back in the race -- and it began well before Pegula took over. They were 14-18-4 after 36 games. They're 21-10-5 in their last 36. But they have alternated wins and losses in their last eight outings. If they continue the pattern in the remaining 10 games, they're asking for trouble.

"I'm concerned, sure," said coach Lindy Ruff. "We've been playing hard, but you can't give points away."

As the final three minutes of regulation began to tick down, it looked like an easy win, the kind that can propel a team down the homestretch. Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis each scored a goal, continuing their second-half surge. It's been the emergence of the kids, more so than the new owner, that has ignited the Sabres' resurgence.

Then two young defensemen, Andrej Sekera and Tyler Myers, played like befuddled rookies in the fateful final minutes. It was a brutal loss. Miller stormed off the ice in disgust. The players were in a foul mood in the dressing room afterward. It was not a night to wander onto the precious new team logo in the middle of the room.

Down the hall, the Predators, who are tied for fifth and similarly fighting for their playoff lives in the West, were celebrating as if they'd won a playoff series.

Did someone say playoffs? This loss is especially troubling as you look ahead to a possible Stanley Cup series. Even if the Sabres get there, can you trust a team that tosses away leads in this fashion?

It's been a giddy first month in Pegulaville. But the big question remains: How capable is this team, as presently constituted, for a playoff run? Games like Sunday's give you pause. It also has to give hope to the other teams in the East. You think Carolina might derive a little inspiration from reading this box score?

"Well, we control our own destiny, and that's by winning games and making sure we keep leads," Pominville said. "We didn't do that tonight. This point was a big point, but we need two points. If we want to climb, we have to get two points, especially when we have leads. The other teams can think whatever they want."

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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