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Sabres return from break, still in freefall

Winners of just two of their last nine games, Buffalo returned to the ice after a week off and summarily laid an egg vs division rival Ottawa.

Sometimes, even a break from a bad stretch isn't enough to break it.

The Sabres, who have gone from sure-fire playoff contenders to barely hanging on with less than two weeks left in the regular season, returned to the ice after a seven-day break Thursday night.

The result? Uneven play resulting in a 4-1 loss - bad enough, but worse still, to division rival Ottawa, who are now in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, four points ahead of Buffalo.

Cam Talbot, who hadn't played in nearly three weeks after a 4-0 loss to the Islanders, gave up the same four goals on 24 shots that he did in that last contest. The Sabres similarly couldn't find the net, but at least netted one first-period tally from a Martin Necas blast.

"Tight game until we gave it away in the third," said Sabres head coach Jim Montgomery. "Bad time to give up points, especially with the time away. We came out fine, battled. But not sure what happened in the last 15 minutes of this one."

With the loss, Buffalo hangs perilously closer to falling out of the first wild card position. Five teams are within 5 points of the Sabres, who are at 88 points with five games remaining. Tampa currently occupies the second wild card spot with 85 points, though they are tied with two others (Carolina and Toronto) who are also at 85 points.

Pittsburgh and Boston, both with 83 points, sit five points back.

"We've dropped from the divisional race and we're battling in the wild card race - it's not fun losing however you slice it," said captain Dylan Larkin. "We need to find a way to earn points - simple as that, or we aren't going to get where we want to be."

The Sabres get right back to it on Saturday night in Philadelphia, and play three additional games (at home vs Tampa Bay and on the road against Columbus and Detroit) before closing out the season on June 28th at home vs Florida.

"We're right at the end. It's time to push through and find another gear," said Montgomery.

Another gear, indeed.

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