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Sabres punch back too late against Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. – When the puck drops for a defensive-zone faceoff, the wingers head to the blue line to make sure the defensemen don't get free.

Florida's defensemen got free, and it paid off.

Buffalo had breakdowns on two faceoffs Friday night, and the Panthers scored on both to dart to a 4-1 victory.

"Those are killers," Sabres coach Phil Housley said in BB&T Center. "They can really take a lot of wind out of your sails."

The Panthers opened the scoring with 1:25 gone when they won the faceoff in Buffalo's zone. Defenseman Mike Matheson danced around Kyle Okposo for a shot that beat goaltender Robin Lehner.

"I've got to have that guy," Okposo said.

After the Sabres rallied to tie, it happened again. Benoit Pouliot went to the blue line, but he didn't stop Aaron Ekblad from going past him for a cross-ice pass and goal.

"We can't give up two defensive-zone faceoff goals against," Housley said. "That's attention to detail. We talked about that before the game. That's just awareness and not picking up our checks."

The Sabres had played a solid team game in establishing a 5-0-1 run against Atlantic Division opponents and a 6-1-1 run on the road. The Panthers added a loss to both those categories.

"It was a bit of a frustrating game, but they're fighting for their playoff lives," Okposo said. "That would have been a good game to win for us. Those are the barometer games. If we're going to do that right now this late in the season, those are the games that we have to set our bar at."

Inside the Sabres: It comes down to a matter of respect

The difference in the second period was simple. One team scored. The other didn't.

After 40 minutes, the shots were 20-20. The score was 4-1.

"We had our opportunities at key times of the game," Housley said. "They capitalized on theirs, and we didn't."

There was a five-minute span of the second period when the game featured end-to-end action. Florida goaltender James Reimer turned away the Sabres' prime chances. The puck quickly went up ice and got past Buffalo netminder Robin Lehner.

"It wasn't really bouncing for us," Lehner said. "They got some breaks, and we didn't."

Lehner allowed four goals on 30 shots as his save percentage dropped to .887 in the last eight appearances. His teammates took on the blame.

"If I bury a couple more, we're right back in that game," said right wing Sam Reinhart, who scored once on four shots. "I gave myself a lot of looks, and that could have changed the game a little bit.

"The chances they did create were Grade A ones, so we could have done a little bit better job in that."

Sabres Notebook: Nelson, Antipin pair well; Rodrigues injured

The loss got to the Sabres late. Nathan Beaulieu dropped the gloves to fight Colton Sceviour with 22 seconds left. After the other players inched toward the tussle, Okposo threw down his gloves for a tilt with MacKenzie Weegar.

It was reminiscent of the teams' meeting in Buffalo last month, a 4-2 victory for Florida. They combined for 66 penalty minutes in the final 2:01. This time, there were 46 minutes in the final 22 seconds.

It shows the Sabres don't go down without a fight. It also shows they have to fight because they're down.

"I think we should have our aggression at the start of the game and playing heavy and finishing checks more than at the end of the game," Housley said.

Reinhart concurred.

"You saw it last game we played against these guys, and unfortunately they got the better of us both times," he said. "It's unfortunate from our point of view that it's happening at the end when we're kind of out of it."

He noted the teams have one more meeting April 7 in Florida for the season finale.

"Hopefully," Reinhart said, "we can bring that energy to start with."

The Wraparound: Panthers 4, Sabres 1

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