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Mike Harrington: Somber Sabres look like a team defeated

You just wonder how much self-inflicted pain the Buffalo Sabres can take. Every team has a limit. The Sabres may have reached theirs.

The mood was decidedly somber Monday, a day coach Dan Bylsma kept his team off the ice following Sunday's collapse in Pittsburgh. The team returned to work Tuesday morning and Bylsma admitted to concern about how his troops were going to react in the evening against Philadelphia.

The coach was right. He said his team looked shellshocked and apprehensive and that was accurate. Two quick power-play goals gave the Sabres a pulse but they were a step behind all night in their 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. A disgruntled crowd at KeyBank Center was mostly off to the exits with 15 minutes left.

The fans know it. They can all see clearly this is almost certainly going to be the city's sixth straight spring without playoff hockey -- and the eighth one since Daniel Briere and Chris Drury were allowed to leave town nearly 10 years ago. Yes, it always circles back to July 1, 2007.

As for this Sabres season, that 3-0 lead that went poof in the night Sunday in Pittsburgh seems like it might prove to be the epitaph. Hours before Tuesday's beatdown, Bylsma laid bare his concern following the morning skate.

"It's going to be a tale of the game, us rebounding from the emotional hit from the last game," he said. "I've talked about it and we've addressed it with different times at different games, our rebound situation. We're going to have to take the temperature real early on in this game with where we're at and how we're responding to two days ago."

Bylsma's thermometer would have shown as chilly a reading as it was in the frigid building.

Jack Eichel had a three-point night to go over 100 for his career but his 1-on-3 play in the neutral zone led to the game's first goal and clearly infuriated his coach, who sat him for his next shift. Marcus Foligno and Zemgus Girgensons committed turnovers on the next two Flyers goals, a couple bad bounces went Philly's way and the Flyers won battles in front of the net.

And Robin Lehner, all 6-foot-5 of him, played himself small on a couple goals by going down prematurely and getting burned top shelf.

Ugly, ugly, ugly.

When the dressing room doors opened, there were lots of players sitting somberly, heads looking at the floor. There were no answers there. None anywhere.

The one thing about this Buffalo club is that it's been pretty resilient this season. Bad losses have usually been followed by stretches of good play the next game. The Sabres, in fact, have been pretty even keeled all season. They have two just two three-game losing streaks in regulation and a trio of three-game winning streaks.

"The thing that's disappointing is we didn't get the job done because the last few games we haven't been in a great position but we've had chances to win," said defenseman Zach Bogosian. "It seems we can't tie a win together with another win and get a streak going."

Step back from the day-to-day grind of the season and think to all the grueling nights this team has endured and it's a wonder it still had a pulse.

Think of the blown three-goal lead in the third period in Philly in October that turned into a shootout loss. Overtime losses at Washington and Chicago where the tying goal was scored inside the final seven minutes of regulation. Blown 2-0 leads to Boston and at Toronto, the first real red alert game that saw the Leafs send a big message that their rebuild has accelerated past Buffalo's.

Then there's the much more recent segment of games. The Sabres are 1-5-2 in their last eight and 1-4-2 since the bye. Think of Feb. 26 at Arizona, the worst loss of the season -- and maybe the worst loss in many seasons. A 2-0 third-period lead disappeared against the NHL's 29th-ranked team, turning into a 3-2 loss on Radim Vrbata's slapshot from the blueline with 19 seconds left.

Then came the pair of blown two-goal leads in the overtime loss to Nashville two nights later, and Sunday's disaster in The Burgh, where a a 3-0 lead after the first period and a 3-2 advantage after two disappeared. It became two goals in the final five minutes and a 4-3 loss.

"We have to have some internal reflection," said Ryan O'Reilly, who was quick to blame himself as any of his teammates for the issues. "When bad things happen, we start to hesitate more and start to think a bit more. It's tough. .. Everyone on the ice wants to make the right play, get the puck out, do the right thing. There's a little too much thinking of it and I got into that too much as well."

The Sabres had another chance to move up against an opponent it was trying to catch Tuesday but things didn't go very well at all. They've given up 33 goals in the last eight games and you're not winning yielding more than four a night. The defense hasn't been good enough all year and the goaltending has slipped to average after being a strength for several months.

The schedule only gets worse. A home-and-home this weekend with Columbus is followed by the West Coast trip to San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. In reality, it seems like the Sabres are closer to New Jersey and Detroit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference than they are to that final wild-card.

Give them credit for enduring all the injuries and heartbreak they've had to be able to put together some pretty nice wins. But it seems like the end is at hand. Bylsma talked about the wild swings of winning and losing in a playoff series and how you need to be able to tolerate them, how it's another step for a young team.

Too bad it seems like another year the Sabres won't get the chance to find out what that's like.

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