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One step forward, two back for Lehner and Sabres

SUNRISE, Fla. – Robin Lehner stopped the Sabres from getting blown out. He couldn’t stop a shootout attempt.

Just like his team, it’s a case of one step forward, two steps back.

Lehner’s run of imperfection in shootouts continued with Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Florida. The Panthers scored on both of their attempts, a common occurrence with Lehner in the crease. The Buffalo goaltender has not stopped any of the six shooters he’s faced to drop to 0-3 in the breakaway challenge.

It was a rough ending to a 36-save night, during which he was Buffalo’s best player in the first period.

“I keep working on them,” said Lehner, who had a couple of incomplete thoughts before saying, “Good shooters. What can I say?”

Coach Dan Bylsma was at a loss for words, too.

“Keep trying and keep working at them,” Bylsma said. “We keep practicing them a different way, focus a different way, mindset a different way. It’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”

The shootouts are clearly in Lehner’s head. They’ve been a long-term problem. The goalie is 7-14 in his career while stopping 36 of 66 shots. That .545 save percentage ranks 86th among the 91 goalies who have faced at least 15 shooters since Lehner came into the NHL in 2010-11.

“We gave away a point,” Lehner said.

They did it for the second straight game against a team they’re trying to catch. During the Sabres’ two-game road trip, they earned one point in each game. Carolina and Florida earned two. It’s not a recipe for making up ground in the Eastern Conference.

“We need every point we can possibly get in this fight and this battle,” Bylsma said. “We gave up one, and we gave up one to a team we’re below in the standings. At the same time, we’ve got to keep fighting and clawing and scratching to add to our column.

“We’ve got to find ways to win hockey games.”

Although Lehner felt the brunt of the loss, he was the main reason Buffalo even got one point. The Panthers dominated the first period, opening a 16-4 shot advantage. Only one got past Lehner. The Sabres’ inept penalty kill allowed the Panthers to open a 2-0 lead midway through the second.

“It’s our fault we were down, 2-0,” Lehner said. “They came out really hard. We couldn’t really match it.”

Right wing Sam Reinhart returned to a hastily deserted locker room but had no answer for the early sleepwalk.

“I don’t know what the reason is right now,” Reinhart said. “I liked the way they played. I liked the way they came out. We can learn from that, too.”

The Sabres scored three straight goals and could have avoided the shootout if they’d held on to the lead. But Florida tied the game with 3:51 remaining as Jaromir Jagr earned his third assist of the night, tying him with Mark Messier for second on the NHL’s all-time scoring list with 1,887 points.

“It’s frustrating, not going to lie,” Reinhart said. “What I do like is no matter where we are in a game we feel like we can produce enough offense now where we can put ourselves back in that game. We didn’t have that a few weeks ago.

“The way we came out in the second, if we play three that way, we come out with that game more times than not.”

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