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SABRES 5, BRUINS 4

Bruins black out in the end

Sabres get 3 late goals, then turn out lights in shootout

For nearly 52 minutes, the last-place Bruins were better than the first-place Buffalo Sabres.

During that span, the Bruins laid hits on the speedy Sabres. They burned by them in the neutral zone. They scored two goals on the power play. They kept the high-powered Buffalo attack from breaking free of its bonds, creating a perimeter around Tim Thomas.

But the Bruins, up, 4-1, in the third period, allowed the Sabres to score three unanswered goals, then watched Buffalo score twice after a scoreless overtime to claim a 5-4 shootout victory. Buffalo forwards Daniel Briere and Ales Kotalik buried their shootout staredowns against Thomas ( 29 saves), while Patrice Bergeron was the only Bruin -- Glen Murray and P.J. Axelsson were stoned by Ryan Miller (30 saves) -- to find the back of the net.

With the rally, Buffalo proved why it's the best team in hockey. And with the collapse -- the second time Boston has wilted in the third period this season in front of Thomas and given away a multigoal lead -- Boston showed why it's one of the worst.

"We handled them for the first 52 minutes," said Paul Mara. "We showed we were the better team. For some reason, we just gave it up. And that's too bad."

So the game that should have been a win, turned into a tie, and ultimately became a shootout loss before an announced crowd of 12,547 at TD Banknorth Garden -- plenty of empties, especially in the upper bowl -- clouded the positives coach Dave Lewis took out of it.

Lewis, who had shuffled his lines yesterday morning, watched his club dominate for most of the night. The line of Axelsson, Murray, and Marc Savard generated three goals, two on the power play, and sent 11 shots on Miller. Phil Kessel, playing his first pro game at center, had three shots and nearly salted the game in overtime when he was on the receiving end of a Matt Lashoff pass.

But all those good feelings were rubbed out when the Bruins, feeling the pressure of the Buffalo attack, caved in once again.

"We don't have the killer instinct right now," said Mara. "We've got to develop it. We lost a three-goal lead late. We can't have that. It's totally unacceptable and we can't have it."

The game started out rosy for the three-win Bruins, who outshot the Sabres, 16-5, in the first period. After trading goals in the second period (Axelsson slammed home a feed from Savard and Buffalo forward Jason Pominville tipped home a shot by defenseman Brian Campbell), the Bruins netted three straight goals to claim its seemingly safe 4-1 lead.

Savard, playing his best game as a Bruin, tucked home a rebound of a Bergeron point shot that pinged off a post at 13:26 of the second period. On the next power play, Miller stopped a Savard slapper, but Murray was on the doorstep and banged in a rebound at 19:16 of the middle frame.

And in the third period, Boston scored for the fourth time when Mark Mowers, following a strong cycling effort by the Bruins, took a pass from Brad Boyes -- double-shifting in place of Wade Brookbank -- and roofed a shot over Miller at 3:56.

"There were an awful lot of positives," said Lewis, citing the power-play efficiency (2 for 3), the odd-man rushes, and a stout defense as some of the good things he saw in his club. "They made some very good things happen on the ice. We just didn't complete the game. That was the only thing."

Just last Saturday, the Bruins played a thorough 60 minutes in a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators. They didn't get the same last night. Buffalo forward Maxim Afinogenov touched off the rally, pouncing on a bouncing puck that Jason York couldn't settle and firing a screamer past Thomas at 11:11 of the third period.

The shifty winger netted his second goal and eighth of the season with 2:30 remaining in regulation when a puck ticked off Mara's skate and onto his stick.

And with 1:35 left in the third period, after the Bruins failed to sweep the puck out of their zone, Kotalik took a pass from forward Paul Gaustad and cranked a one-timer past a defenseless Thomas, completing the three-goal outburst and souring an outcome that should have been far more enjoyable for the grim Bruins.

"We outplayed them all night until the end," said Savard (goal, two assists). "We've got to play 60 minutes. There's not going to be any gratitude in losing a hockey game on a night when we should have won, 4-1."

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