The final 20: How the 3rd period has hurt the Sabres recently


Buffalo Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark (35) stops a shot by Philadelphia Flyers right wing Travis Konecny (11) during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., Monday, March 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – If there’s one positive the Sabres can take from their last two losses, it’s that they had the lead going into the third period. Their biggest problem is finishing the games. They’ve fallen apart in the third in each of those losses, extending their winless streak to 18.

Saturday against the Boston Bruins, the Sabres held a 2-1 lead after two periods, but gave up two goals in the 3rd to lose 3-2.

Monday, they outplayed the Philadelphia Flyers for the first 40 minutes, scoring three goals and allowing zero. That 3-0 lead turned into a 3-3 tie in the third period as the Flyers were able to net a trio of goals to send it to overtime, where they scored first to get the 4-3 win.

Perhaps their biggest problem now is knowing how to play with the lead. They haven’t experienced it much this season, especially in the last month. Rasmus Dahlin said the team had a “panic attack” on Monday as things started to unravel. Kyle Okposo spoke on the team’s need for confidence in the third with the lead.

“We haven’t been in a position where we’ve had leads and holding leads and that’s something that you have to learn how to do as a team as well,” Okposo said. “We haven’t really been able to do that over the past month, month and a half so that’s just a skill you have to learn how to incorporate into the way you play and that’s maturing as a team.”

So what’s causing things to fall apart? Interim head coach Don Granato believes the problem is puck management in the final 20 minutes.

“We have to realize how to possess the puck collectively,” Granato said. “So it’s more than just one player with the puck, it’s the other four supporting that player and that’s a mindset that we are progressing toward, we are getting much better with, and that caught us in both those games, but those periods and the elevation of the opposition [led to the losses.]”

In the last two games the Sabres have outscored opponents 5-1 in the first two periods, but they’ve been outscored 5-0 in the third.

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