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Sabres look to learn early-season lesson

The coaching staff took the ice Wednesday afternoon in KeyBank Center, skating a few laps and shooting a few pucks, waiting for the players to emerge from the locker room.

The team meeting wasn't long or intense. But it was an opportunity to address the latest third-period collapse and put an end to the trend before it snowballs out of control.

The Buffalo Sabres have given up third-period leads in two of their last three games, including losing a 3-0 lead to the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday. That game featured a trio of power play goals from the Flyers, two of which came in the final three minutes. The Flyers went on to win the game, 4-3, in a shootout.

Time to turn a clean page, forget the game and move on to Thursday night's meeting with the Minnesota Wild in KeyBank Center, right? Well, not exactly.

"No, I don’t ever want to forget this one. I think we can’t forget it," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said to media Wednesday when asked if the latest loss was one to just forget. "I get your point, you want to cut loose and turn the next page but if we want to be a good team, if we want to be a winning team this is a game we have to learn a lesson from with how we played it, have to learn a lesson in how we’re going to play going forward and one we should never let happen again."

Unacceptable was the word of the day among the players, who saw Tuesday's collapse in Philadelphia as a result of getting away from the style of game which earned them the lead in the first place.

"We had our meeting and we talked about a lot of things," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said. "We talked about trying to be a team that wants to win and is doing the right things to win. Going into the third with a 3-0 lead we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be better with the puck. We’ve got to make better decisions and as whole we’ve got to be much better.

"When you look back at it, it was all on us," Gionta said. "The things we did, turnovers which lead to penalties which lead to a good power play by them and momentum starts to take over. They get that first power play goal, there’s still plenty of time. We can run out the clock and there’s about three minutes or so with a two-goal lead. That’s got to be our game."

While the bulk of the Sabres roster has been together for an entire season, there still is a learning curve. This time, it's the classic challenge of learning how to play with a lead. The Sabres have plenty of experience being the team down, desperate to find some goals and willing to take chances. Learning how to be on the receiving end of that fast and loose game will be a key component to any future success.

"We have to realize holding a lead is going to be tougher," Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "We’ve been in those situations where we’re down a couple goals and you play loose. You go. You take risks. If we then lose aggressiveness it gives them more time and they’re going to start getting the bounces because they’re playing looser. There’s a certain mentality where we’re still playing aggressive but supportive as well. That’s what we’ve lacked. Know they’re going to come, we have to support each other more, we have to break out together and then when the play’s not there, let’s not force it. It’s a learning process and we have to learn it quick."

The basic lesson from the last game? Keep it simple and play for the full 60 minutes.

"We’re playing a no-nonsense type of hockey, simple hockey," Josh Gorges said. "Trying to put the opposition in positions to make mistakes and force them into tough situations and capitalize on our opportunities. Problem is we get away from that. We start to think we’re a team that’s going to go out there and make plays and be a little bit more fancy and that’s when we get ourselves into trouble and when we start making mistakes.

"We’re not happy with our game last game by any means," Gorges said. "It’s not acceptable. But we can’t hit the panic button now and start freaking out. We just have to make sure we correct the things we can correct, make sure we’re focused on the job we need to do and when we come to play you’ve got to realize you’ve got to play for 60 minutes. And I hate to say that because it’s a cliché but the proof is in the pudding (Tuesday) night."

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