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Stunning turn of events; Point earned provides little consolation

There was no reason to toss out the same old cliches as far as Jordan Leopold was concerned. You know, the chatter about needing to play for 60 minutes, about learning from mistakes. Those would have been just idle words Sunday.

The only words that really mattered were these: The Buffalo Sabres blew it.

The Sabres were up by two goals with just 2:30 to play. Nashville, though, stunned Buffalo and its fans by scoring three times in 2:54 to hand the Sabres a 4-3 overtime loss.

"We can say all the things -- composure, make the right play, this and that, blah, blah, blah -- but it just comes down to us being good with the time and score," Leopold said. "You look at it, the last four minutes we gave up a couple precious opportunities to them, and we gave up a big point for us."

The Sabres gave up more than a point. They gave up a lot of the hometown goodwill they created during Saturday's 8-2 dismantling of Atlanta. The sellout crowd in HSBC Arena was set to cheer a wonderful weekend at the foot of Main Street, but instead the fans had no choice but to boo the boys in Blue and Gold off the ice.

"There's nobody else to blame but ourselves," said Leopold, the Sabres' top-scoring defenseman. "We were playing well there, we had a couple lapses and the puck's in our net. Those are real, real tough ones to swallow."

The sudden disintegration continued a troubling trend for the Sabres. They led by two goals and lost for the seventh time this season, tied with Phoenix for most in the NHL.

"We were playing a pretty solid game once we got the lead, which we've struggled with before," Sabres center Tim Connolly said. "Unfortunately, they came back, got a couple quick ones on us and won it in OT. It's a tough point to lose."

It wasn't as if the Sabres panicked their lead away. They didn't have time to panic. Nashville's Blake Geoffrion took advantage of defenseman Andrej Sekera's mistake with 2:27 to go, completed his hat trick on a deflection with 1:23 remaining and joined the rest of the Predators in celebrating Martin Erat's one-time winner with 27 seconds gone in OT.

The setback dropped the Sabres to 19-2-3 when leading after two periods, a paltry winning percentage of .792 that ranks 25th in the 30-team NHL. The Sabres were 30-0 last season when ahead after 40 minutes before allowing Boston to come back in two playoff games.

"When you get up by two and you've got a couple minutes left and you give away a point, that one really hurts," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

The eighth-place Sabres managed to increase their lead over Carolina, taking a 79-76 edge in points with 10 games left for both squads. They dropped three points behind the victorious New York Rangers with one fewer game played.

This result, though, wasn't about getting a point. It was about losing one. It was about blowing one.

"In this league, the game's never out of reach. You've got to play right to the end," Connolly said. "We didn't finish them off."

The Sabres erased their early 1-0 deficit with second-period goals by Nathan Gerbe, Connolly and Tyler Ennis. Gerbe and Connolly scored just 42 seconds apart, priming the 18,690 fans for a victory party.

Instead, the applause came from a jubilant visiting dressing room.

Nashville pulled within one when Sekera coughed up the puck behind the net, allowing Geoffrion to whack it home near the post.

"I never got it all the way," Sekera said. "It was spinning on me. I just saw it between my legs and then it spun off in front of the net."

Said Ruff: "Tough play on the second goal where Andrej could've just taken it, kept going, and he for some reason just opened up. Tough mistake."

Geoffrion tied it by tipping Cody Franson's point shot, creating a bouncing puck that bounded by goaltender Ryan Miller (22 saves).

The sudden-death winner came on a pair of cross-ice passes, with David Legwand finding Ryan Suter, who fed Erat in the right circle. The loss dropped Buffalo to 8-8 in games decided in overtime.

"They were able to come back, so we didn't do a good enough job," said Connolly, whose team visits Montreal on Tuesday. "It would've been a really good weekend if we'd have gotten all four points, but we were only able to get three out of four. Right now it stings a bit, but we've got to focus."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

***

Predators 4, Sabres 3 (OT)

SLAP SHOTS: Sabres cough up two-goal lead in final 2:33 of regulation, drop to 3-3-1 in last seven. ... Buffalo falls to 19-2-3 when leading after two periods. ... Gerbe, Connolly, Ennis key Sabres' second-period surge.

FAST FACT: The Sabres fell to 8-8 in games decided during overtime. They are 5-1 in shootouts.

NEXT: Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Bell Centre.

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