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Sabres' late push is teaching moment for opponents

It was a familiar script. The Buffalo Sabres fell behind, made a frantic push with a good third period but came up short.

They usually talk about it being something to build off. It turns out the opponent learns things, too.

As the Washington Capitals celebrated their 3-2 victory Monday afternoon, they looked back at the final 20 minutes. Buffalo opened the third in a 2-0 hole, but it fired 17 of the period's 22 shots to make it one-goal game.

The Capitals held on, but they might not against a team that's above last place in the NHL in goals per game.

"When a team is pinching down really hard, you've got to work around that," Washington defenseman John Carlson said in KeyBank Center. "We did a better job in that last 10 minutes in the third than the first 10 of the period. It's a tough game. It's the NHL, and these teams, they've got really skilled players. They shorten the bench, and they press you as hard as they can.

"That's just what happens in third periods. The more we can learn and make better plays getting it out like we did in the last 10, we'll be better off."

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The Capitals aren't the first team to sweat out the final minutes. While the Sabres have been outscored, 124-81, during the opening two periods this season, they trail just 63-59 in the third. Toss out empty-net goals, and it's 49-49.

As opponents gear up for the playoffs by beating the Sabres, they're learning what it takes to close out games.

"A little bit human nature when you get up by a couple goals you feel like you want to play safe and sit back," Caps forward T.J. Oshie said. "Where we got all our success tonight was putting pucks in and getting some extended zone time. I think we can learn from that. We can be more aggressive without giving up odd-man rushes.

"If we stick to our systems, I think it'll be harder for teams to get that momentum and feel like they're jamming it down our throat in the last four or five minutes."

Added Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer: "After the second period, we knew they were going to come out in their own building. I'm sure their coach said something to them.

"If we play our way in the last period, get the pucks out, play simple, not make too many fancy plays, I think we're in good shape."

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Of course, none of this is any consolation to the Sabres. They're left searching for answers as to why they play better when behind than when the game starts.

The next opportunity for clues comes Thursday when they visit the Detroit Red Wings.

"The result definitely we don't like," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "We want to win at home here, but against a really good hockey team, I can't fault our guys for the effort. I'd like to start the way we played the third period.

"We were one shot away from tying the game. It's unfortunate, but I really like the way we responded in the third. That's the type of hockey that we're looking for for 60 minutes."

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