BUFFALO — The Bruins spent the first two periods looking as if they would sail to an easy victory over the Sabres at the First Niagara Center. But on a night sized up for 2 points and perhaps late-night champagne bon voyage toasts at the side of Lake Erie, their game crashed into the rocks and they limped out of here with a 4-2 loss to their old Adams Division pals.
“The biggest thing for me, after two periods, we should have put them away,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “We are not burying our chances and, after a while, that’s going to catch up to you.’’
Catch up, as in smack you on the side of the helmet a couple of times and leave you flatter than the blue line. The Bruins carried a 2-1 lead into the third period, but they could have been ahead by a handful of goals if not for some strong saves by Ryan Miller and some bad luck in the form of a number of hit posts.
The Bruins outshot the Sabres, 17-6, in the middle period, not counting what may have been four posts. Play remained almost exclusively in the Buffalo end, and the crowd, tired of a listless performance this season, booed their darlings as they left the ice for the second intermission.
“If you look at our third period, that’s exactly how we have to play,’’ said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, whose indifferent play, until Friday night, had been a source of great consternation in Buffalo. “I think we worked a lot harder in the third period. We came out with a purpose to win a hockey game.’’
The Bruins? They came out for the third as curious spectators, unable to match the Sabres for shots, for effort, and especially for urgency.
“You can’t play a 40-minute game and expect to win,’’ said Bruins winger Shawn Thornton. “We’ve got to look at this, be upset about it, and learn from it at the same time.’’
The Sabres fell asleep in the second period, but stirred from their slumber in the third to score three times and run off with an impressive win.
They rallied for a pair in the opening 10 minutes of period No. 3 to reclaim the lead, 3-2. Cody Hodgson then banged in the 4-2 lead at 11:45, knocking in an easy tap at the left post, left unguarded by Andrew Ference.
Earlier in the period, Myers knotted it at 2-2, cleaning up with a backhanded lift after Anton Khudobin stoned Jochen Hecht on a two-on-one break-in at 2:03. Christian Ehrhoff provided the 3-2 lead at 9:02 on a defensive breakdown by the Bruins. They had four players on the back wall, leaving Ehrhoff with a clear shot from mid-slot.
The Bruins, fresh from a 3-1 win here on Sunday, fell into a 1-0 deficit only 3:24 into the first when Drew Stafford nailed a doorstep forehander by Khudobin. Tyler Ennis dished out after a Ference clearing attempt banged back behind the net off Sabres forward Marcus Foligno.
The Sabres appeared to be off and running, but their momentum soon dissipated.
The Bruins came back to tie on Dougie Hamilton’s first career goal, a one-timer from the high edge of the right circle with the Bruins on a power play. David Krejci made the feed from lower in the circle, Hamilton becoming the first 19-year-old defenseman to score a goal for the Bruins since Jonathan Girard in 1999, according to the NHL.
Tyler Seguin earned the second assist, making it a “Kessel Combo.” Hamilton and Seguin are in Bruins uniforms because of the trade that sent Phil Kessel to Toronto, bringing Boston the pair of first-round picks.
“I can’t really describe it, it’s a dream come true,’’ said Hamilton, happy about his first goal, though subdued because it came in a loss. “I couldn’t stop smiling until the second period started. And the biggest thing is, I got to do it in front of a lot of friends and family.’’
Born in Toronto, about 100 miles north, Hamilton played his junior hockey just north of the US/Canada border. His mother and father were at the center of small cheering section amid the crowd of 19,070.
Only 2:29 into the second, the Bruins moved in front for the first time. Rich Peverley popped it in from low in the slot, cashing in a ricochet that Hamilton created with a big slapper from the right point aimed for the back wall.
It was only Boston’s second regulation loss of the season, so Julien wasn’t too peeved. He made clear, though, that his scorers have to start scoring.
Top forwards Seguin and Nathan Horton have combined for but six goals in 12 games. They were blanked Friday night on a combined six shots.
“We have goal scorers who aren’t producing and that makes it tough,’’ said Julien. “We get the chances and we don’t put them away. We’ll be that much better when they start going in, but until that happens we will struggle like we did tonight.’’Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.