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Familiar woes deal Sabres playoff chances a serious blow

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Loss to Flyers sees Philadelphia vault Buffalo in standings

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres made a quick turnaround from Toronto to Philadelphia for yet another back-to-back game. After a tough 5-3 loss, the Sabres hoped to rebound against a Flyers club that is streaking through the standings and poised to overtake Buffalo in the race for the final wild card bid.

The opening frame was a struggle for the Sabres. The team allowed 19 shots on goal in the first 20 minutes, leaving Carter Hutton out to dry on several occasions. It was the Flyers that drew first blood, when a shot rang off of the post, flying across the ice and onto the stick of Travis Konecny. Konecny easily slid a pass to an uncontested Oskar Lindblom. Lindblom tucked the puck under Hutton’s right arm while Marco Scandella knelt in deference, awestruck by the play.

At 7:52, Jakub Voracek gave the Flyers a two goal lead, when he collected a rebound from Hutton’s leg pad and drove the shot home uncontested. Buffalo finally got on the board with just over seven minutes left in the first, when Jack Eichel potted his third goal in 24-hours, a power play tally to draw the club within one.

The second period began 4-on-4, and Buffalo quickly turned that into a power play when the Flyers were caught with too many skaters on the ice. The ensuing flurry would be the team’s best opportunities of the early second period. The Flyers owned the middle ten minutes, and at 15:13, James van Riemsdyk hooked a redirect between the legs of Hutton while Brandon Montour stared the initial shot down.

Buffalo again cut the Flyers’ lead in half as Evan Rodrigues carried the puck into the offensive zone, drawing the Philadelphia defense. Rodrigues fought off two defenders to make a centering pass to a wide-open Casey Mittelstadt, who flung the puck over Brian Elliott’s outstretched blocker.

The Sabres managed 16 shots in the second, but most were harmless. Elliott even gave up a handful of juicy rebounds, but there was no one in position to capitalize.

The third period began as the second had, with the teams 4-on-4. Buffalo took possession early and broke into the zone, but a mishandled pass had the Flyers come back fast. Buffalo’s backcheck ended up screening Hutton, and 46 seconds into the final period, Travis Sondheim scored his sixth of the season.

Philadelphia controlled play for much of the third. Buffalo showed flashes - Rodrigues may have played his best game of the season - but in the end, the team couldn’t put together cohesive pressure. Coach Phil Housley chose to pull Hutton early, but when Rasmus Dahlin lost control of the puck at the point, Michael Raffl poked it free and Claude Giroux lobbed it home from 100 feet out.

The Flyers have put Buffalo four teams back - eight points outside of the playoffs. Except for Montreal, the teams surrounding the Sabres are red hot - Philly is 6-3-1 in their last 10. Florida is 7-3. Columbus is 6-4. Buffalo? 3-6-1.

To say it would be impossible for Buffalo to get in would be incorrect - the team’s had a 10-game winning streak this season, and they could do it again. The probability that they do is very, very low, and that’s essentially what it would take for the team to make up the gap they’ve driven between themselves and the postseason.

The Sabres end February on a losing note - the third straight month without a winning record. There are a lot of questions with this team as they head to the homestretch, and only 19 games left to answer them

Final: Flyers 5, Sabres 2

Shots on goal Flyers 45 | Sabres 36

Sabres goals : Jack Eichel (1), Casey Mittelstadt (1)

Flyers goals: Oskar Lindblom (1), Jakub Voracek (1), James van Riemsdyk (1), Travis Sanheim (1), Claude Giroux (1)

Three stars of the game

  1. Claude Giroux (1G, 1A)
  2. Brian Elliott (34 saves on 36 shots)
  3. Evan Rodrigues (1A)