The victory was there for the taking Thursday. Buffalo has been sitting home most of the month and had the previous day off. Carolina, meanwhile, was playing on the road for the second straight night and finishing a stretch of three games in four days.
So when the teams entered the third period in a 2-2 tie, it stood to reason the Sabres should have an advantage. When clock struck zero and the scoreboard showed Carolina with a 5-3 win, the advantage had been wasted.
“The first two periods we were into a game,” Buffalo captain Steve Ott said. “It was our third to win, and we came out and they shot 12 and we shot six at them. You would think it would be the other way with the sense of them playing back-to-back games.
“The third period was basically you outwork them, you should win the game. It felt like in the third period they outworked us. That’s the whole game. The third period, we lost the game.
“They outbattled us as a tired team. It shouldn’t have been that way.”
Carolina did indeed double the Sabres’ shot total in the final 20 minutes. While Tyler Ennis gave the home team a 3-2 advantage just 48 seconds in, Carolina scored three unanswered to win the period and the game.
“We’re finding ways to lose hockey games versus ways to win hockey games,” said Sabres coach Ted Nolan, whose club is 0-3-2 in the last five.
The Sabres blew three leads in the game - 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. Cody Hodgson and Brian Flynn joined Ennis on the score sheet.
“We should have done a better job of getting pucks behind them and not turning it over and try to wear them down better,” Flynn said. “That’s our fault.”
The Sabres have allowed 21 goals, including two shootout tallies, during their five-game winless streak. Jhonas Enroth allowed four goals on 32 shots.
“Like everybody else, we could be a lot better,” Nolan said of the goaltender, who fell to 1-10-4.
Phil Varone made his NHL debut, centering for left wing Marcus Foligno and right wing Flynn and picking up an assist. Varone got the call after leading the Amerks in scoring.
“We laid out a message out to the players down there that it’s not just a farm team and you just go down and see what happens,” Nolan said. “We’re going to watch. ... That’s our blood line. That’s where we’re going to get some of our players developed. Certainly, Phil is one of those guys.
“There’s a couple other guys that we’re monitoring down there, too, that you might see before the end of the year.”
Center Zenon Konopka returned to the Sabres’ lineup after a one-game benching. Coach Ted Nolan sent him to the press box after four penalties in six games, including three for goaltender interference.
“When he goes to the net he’s got to stop before that blue paint,” Nolan said. “He can’t go through it. When you go through it, especially a player of his nature, you’re going to get called for that all the time. He’s got to be a little bit smarter.”
Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk, who is “banged up” according to Nolan, sat for the second straight game. Pysyk will likely be watching the clock very closely today. The NHL has a 5 p.m. deadline for teams to send certain players to the minors in order for them to play during the Olympic break.
Retired Buffalo goaltender Martin Biron received a nice ovation from the crowd after being shown on the scoreboard and introduced as the director of goaltending for HarborCenter’s Academy of Hockey.
“I am very excited to return to Buffalo and give back to the people and community who were so supportive throughout my career,” Biron said. “I’m equally eager to help goaltenders at the junior and professional levels to advance their game to an elite level.”