By Ashley Scoby
@AshleyScoby

Detroit Red Wings fans at Joe Louis Arena had just stopped grumbling about a late, game-tying goal from Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly with 4:14 to play in the third period Monday. Yet the grievances were renewed, just a minute and a second later, thanks to a Johan Larsson game-winner.

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The Red Wings (16-9-6) took a 1-0 lead through the majority of the game, but the Sabres used 61 ticks on the clock to take all the points, and leave Detroit wondering once again why the third period sucked away its lead.

Thirteen times this season Detroit has gone to overtime, two of those ending in a shootout. Not all of them have been colossal breakdowns in the third, but the damage is enough to suggest a pattern: Detroit is struggling to hold onto third-period leads. And on Monday, that struggle didn’t even get the team into an overtime period – Buffalo just ripped a win out of the final four minutes.

O’Reilly bounced in a tip-in shot right under Petr Mrazek’s legs with 4:14 remaining, and Larsson followed it up with his own, wide-open shot with 3:13 to play.

“I think before when we lost third-period leads, I think we kind of stopped playing. I don’t think we did that as bad today,” Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg said. “They made some plays on the tying goal, I missed my guy, he tips it in, and then it’s a shot from the point … I thought we kept playing; we kept creating chances in the third.”

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The last time these two teams met, it was a barrage of goals that ended in the Wings’ first shootout victory of the season, 5-4. Detroit needed late-game heroics then, too, after blowing 2-0 and 3-1 leads.

An offensive explosion was missing Monday in the rematch, with Detroit not finding the back of the net until 4:01 into the second period.

Pavel Datsyuk pushed the puck left, then in the same motion fired right to a waiting Brad Richards. For his second goal of the season, Richards slashed it into the top corner of the net behind goalie Chad Johnson. That 1-0 score held until the final few minutes of the game, when things once again took a turn for the worse.

“Tonight it might not be glaring mistakes,” Richards said. “Pucks were just being shot in from the point, weird bounces. Some nights it’s not a systematic breakdown, but for whatever reason mentally it seems to be snowballing on us a lot in the third period.”

The Red Wings are still fifth in the NHL Eastern Conference, but would have more points to show if not for late-game collapses.

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“We’ve got to have more poise and confidence in those situations,” head coach Jeff Blashill said. “There’s a difference between confident and too relaxed. You’ve got to be confident but urgent and we’ve got to get better in those situations. … Which way are we gonna go? We gonna grow or are we gonna feel sorry for ourselves? The league doesn’t care about our issues so we better grow.”