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Sabres fight for their dignity but get ripped by Panthers

So about those first 21 minutes where the Buffalo Sabres saw their defense go flat and the Florida Panthers take a 4-0 lead.

Well, it’s pretty simple.

“I mean that was an embarrassing effort to have at home,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. “It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable. … There’s nothing that we can say this was the reason or that was the reason. Just flat out not good enough to start the game.”

The dismal start spelled doom for the Sabres who took their first regulation loss in five games – a 7-4 decision by the Panthers in First Niagara Center on Tuesday night.

“I would put myself in there,” coach Dan Bylsma said when evaluating the bad start. “We handed them the goals. … It’s not a bad goal. We gave them the opportunities and that’s with how we played and that’s disappointing. We battled and we’ve played hard in a lot of games recently and it wasn’t there for us tonight.”

Bad games and slow starts have been a common theme for the Sabres at home. They are 1-7-2 in their last 10 games in First Niagara Center. A trip to Buffalo doesn’t exactly inspire fear in opposing teams these days.

“I just think we have to have a tougher mentality at home and make this a tougher building and place and environment to play in,” Evander Kane said. “I think being harder to play against especially early, being harder on teams trying to be a little more physical especially early on in the game to set the tone and more so make the other teams understand it’s going to be a tough night when you come in to play the Buffalo Sabres. I think that’s what we’ve been lacking a little bit at home and I think that’s more a mentality and an attitude I think we have to have a little bit better grasp on.”

Kane did his part to make Buffalo inhospitable to Panthers’ defenseman Alex Petrovic. The duo got into three fights – the first time a player in the NHL has been in three fights in a game since 2002.

It was Kane’s first fight of the season and he noted the first time he ever got into three fights in a game (with the possible exception of Midget). His first fight came at 1:49 of the second – right at the time the Sabres were looking for a spark.

Starting goaltender Robin Lehner was pulled for Chad Johnson. Sam Reinhart had put the Sabres on the board with a power play goal. And Kane decided to up the ante.

“I mean there wasn’t much happening with our team at all there,” Kane said. “You’re at home and we’re kind of getting embarrassed and at that point you want to try to make a contribution or have an effect on the game in some capacity. I’m not a fighter obviously; that was my first fight. It was just an opportunity that happened and that’s the way it went down.”

The spirit was willing but the defense was weak.

Reinhart scored again on the power play, cutting the Panthers’ lead to 4-2. Momentum seemed to be on the Sabres side.

Then suddenly it wasn’t.

Two more Florida goals by Brandon Pirri and Jaromir Jagr gave the Panthers a comfortable 6-2 cushion for the second intermission.

“It seemed when we’d battle back they score,” Kane said. “When you get two goals on the power play that gets you back in the game. It’s a hockey game again and we just couldn’t find a way to keep them from scoring. “

“The power play gave us life,” Gorges said.

“They stepped up for us when we desperately needed them to, but I mean it’s tough. You’re fighting an uphill battle the whole way. You try to push, you give up chances. And when you play like that early you end up playing tentative the rest of the game because you don’t want to compound thing. It’s all based on how we came out to play tonight.”

email: amoritz@buffnews.com

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