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MONTREAL — One of these days, the Sabres’ baby steps will become something more. Buffalo’s improved effort and mind-set will eventually turn into something tangible, a victory that would show that hard work really does pay off.

They’re not there yet, though.

The Sabres lost again Saturday, a 3-2 setback against Montreal that left them with another case of “yes, but.” Yes, they kept one of the NHL’s top teams quiet for most of the night, but they allowed the Canadiens to make noise for a game-changing 23 seconds. Yes, they allowed only 19 shots, but the ones that went in were golden opportunities.

Yes, it felt better than the early season losses, but it was a loss nonetheless.

“Our game was there,” Sabres captain Steve Ott said. “We see this progress that we’ve been talking about. It’s not transitioning into wins at this time, but you can’t let it burden yourselves. You have to keep grabbing the possibilities out of each and every game.

“When you’re close it hurts more because you want it. You want the success, and you want to earn wins. We’ve been earning the right plays out there, but we have to get the results.”

The Sabres didn’t get the desired result because they broke down at an inopportune time. They were about two minutes away from hitting the second intermission in a 1-1 tie. Instead, they went to the dressing room in a 3-1 hole.

Potent Montreal scorers Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk got open in point-blank range and beat goaltender Jhonas Enroth just 23 seconds apart, ruining the Sabres’ early efforts to keep the game quiet.

Brandon Prust set up Plekanec for the go-ahead goal with 2:16 left, patiently holding the puck behind the net before feeding his teammate for a tally at the top of the crease.

The train whistle that accompanies Montreal’s goals was still ringing in fans’ ears when the Sabres got caught on the tracks again. The Habs entered the Buffalo zone with speed, and Andrei Markov spotted Galchenyuk alone at the right side of the net with 1:53 remaining.

“We outplayed them,” Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons said. “At the end of the second we pretty much gave the game away. If you give a team a three-minute span with a lot of scoring chances, they’re going to score and you’re going to give the game away.”

The Sabres made a quality run at tying the game during the third period. Girgensons scored a highlight-reel goal 4:04 in, and the Sabres outshot the home team, 8-4, in the final 20 minutes.

They couldn’t get the third goal, though, as they fell to 1-7-1 in the last nine games. Montreal moved to 9-0-1 in its last 10.

“We were hanging in there with a good hockey team,” Ott said. “You crack and it comes down to hurt you. That’s what lost us the game, nothing else really. I thought we were pretty solid with the rest of the 55 or 57 minutes.”

The teams paid homage to Montreal’s French restaurants with an escargot-paced first period, which fed right into Buffalo’s game plan. The normally raucous crowd in Bell Centre sat silently as its team did little.

“I remember looking up at the clock almost midway through the second period and they only had 11 shots,” Sabres forward Luke Adam said. “To hold a team with that much speed and that much firepower to what we did is good.”

The Canadiens got on the board just 19 seconds into the second period on a goal by Prust. Tyler Ennis’ tying goal got lost in the late-period breakdown, one that left the Sabres wondering when their silver linings will become golden moments.

“We’re getting better, but not in the leaps and bounds we’d like to get,” coach Ted Nolan said. “But we’re getting there.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com