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Flyers cash in on errors to put Sabres in a 2-1 hole

There were only a few minutes, Ryan Miller surmised, when his team let up. Other than that brief lull, the Buffalo Sabres had a decent game.

Brief lulls have a way of leading to brief playoff springs and long, hockeyless summers.

There was no way the Buffalo Sabres would be able to keep up the perfection they displayed in the series opener with Philadelphia. There was no way to expect them to make mistake after mistake, either, but they've done it in the last two games.

The Sabres again cost themselves a chance to beat the Flyers on Monday. They took another senseless penalty to give the Flyers an early lead, then handed the visitors the puck and two more goals. The errors added up to a 4-2 loss, the Sabres' second straight as they fell into a 2-1 series hole.

Game Four will be back in HSBC Arena on Wednesday. The Sabres will need to stop their miscues and the losing skid if they hope to win the Eastern Conference quarterfinal.

"There might've been a few minutes where we got away from what we needed to do," Miller said. "We gave them a few turnovers, and that was only a couple minutes. Those couple minutes amounted to a few goals, and it ended up being the difference."

The Flyers scored twice in the second period to build a 3-1 lead, and both goals were gifts. Chris Butler had his stick lifted behind the net early in the second, allowing the Flyers to steal the puck and the momentum. A turnover and a defensive mix-up by Steve Montador allowed Nikolay Zherdev to tap in the game-winner late in the period.

The Flyers are stellar with the lead, as their 40-1-5 record when leading after two and their 2-1 series advantage will attest.

"Certainly, we want to clean up a couple areas, learn from this, let it go and move on," Montador said. "There's no time to be hanging our heads. There's really no time to be saying anything other than, 'All right, let's know what we need to do, know how to prepare for the next game and just do it.' "

Miller, who had his easiest game with just 25 shots faced, says the Sabres need to bring their best to the next game.

"I don't think we've really shown our best game yet," the goaltender said. "We've had our moments, we've certainly been battling, but I don't think it's our best yet. We're certainly going to need it."

The Sabres had been urging Buffalonians to bring their A Game to the home opener, and the fans complied early. They partied outside before the game with cold drafts (both from the wind and the beer taps), and they brought the festive atmosphere inside.

They drowned out the end of the national anthem. They yelled to inspire the Sabres, chanted to mock Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher. The place was loud.

Then, as should have been expected, an early penalty tempered the enthusiasm. It also put Buffalo in a 1-0 hole.

Patrick Kaleta came in late to blast Darroll Powe in the back following a whistle, and the refs were quick to send him to the box for roughing. The Flyers were quick to make Kaleta pay. Jeff Carter -- invisible in the series to that point -- streaked down the right side and unleashed a shot that deflected off Mike Weber's stick and soared under Miller's right arm with 4:42 gone.

The goal silenced the masses.

"It's a tough break, but it's early enough that it shouldn't have mattered," Weber said. "We came right back and got it back."

Drew Stafford scored a power-play goal with 8:05 to go in the first. The rest of the period belonged to Buffalo. Philadelphia's last shot came with 10:42 left, and the Sabres -- who started in a 5-2 hole -- hit the dressing room with a 16-6 edge.

The Sabres went to the dressing room with momentum, but the Flyers came out with it.

Danny Briere's signature windmill fist pump punctuated a goal just 2:44 in, after Scott Hartnell lifted Butler's stick to feed his wide-open winger.

"The guy got under my stick, and I can't allow that to happen," Butler said.

Nathan Gerbe gave the 18,690 fans hope with a goal late in the second. The Sabres' special teams had two opportunities -- one of the glorious variety -- to tie the game in the first half of the third. They failed, including during 1:15 of a five-on-three.

"Every game in this league is a one-goal game now, and playoffs are tough," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "You've got to make a difference. You get that one opportunity, your best players have got to make a difference for you."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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