BUFFALO — Frustrated by the Kings' play in the last 1 1/2 minutes of the second period Friday night, Bruce McNall sent a message to the bench as the players skated onto the ice for the third period:
If the Kings made up a two-goal deficit in the last 20 minutes and beat the Sabres, the co-owner of the team would give each player $1,000.
If they came back to tie, each would get $500.
McNall said he told a team official, Ron Muniz, to call Coach Mike Murphy with the offer. Muniz said he made the call, but apparently word never got to the players.
"You sure he called our bench?" asked the Kings' Jim Fox.
As things turned out, the Kings were just as lethargic in the third period as they were at the end of the second and lost, 5-1, before a crowd of 11,489 at the Memorial Auditorium.
The loss ended a three-game unbeaten streak for the Kings, who are 2-3-1 on a trip that will end Sunday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.
A victory would have assured them of a .500 record on their longest trip of the season, a not-so-modest achievement considering that they opened the season with a disappointing 1-4 home stand.
But what really griped them was the way they lost this one.
The game turned in the last 1:31 of the second period, when the Sabres got goals from Scott Arniel and Adam Creighton in a 40-second span. What had been a tightly contested game suddenly turned in favor of the Sabres, who took a 3-1 lead into the intermission.
"That really took us out of it," said Coach Mike Murphy of the Kings. "It was a big letdown. We'd played hard, but I think a couple of individuals at that time got very selfish and didn't do the job that we asked."
Without elaborating or being more specific, Murphy said two or three players "took the night off."
Said goaltender Rollie Melanson: "Murph knows better than anybody the guys who aren't playing. If they're not doing it, sit them out. If that's what we need to get this team going, maybe that's what we should do.
"We can't afford to take even one minute off. We did tonight at the end of the second period and it cost us.
"We have to come out and play 60 minutes every night. We don't have the type of team like the Edmonton Oilers, where we can afford to take 5 or 10 minutes off in a game and expect it not to hurt us. We don't have that kind of talent. Until we learn to play 60 minutes, we're going to have games like this. It's really frustrating."
The Kings failed to score on the power play for the second straight game, squandering six opportunities. During three man-advantages in the third period, they got two shots on goal.
"Horrendous," Murphy called the power-play unit, which has produced 8 goals in 62 chances. "It's obvious that we have the wrong personnel out there. They look like they have no desire to get the job done."
The Kings' only goal was scored by seldom-used Joe Paterson, who stole a pass just 3 1/2 minutes into the game and beat goaltender Daren Puppa, who made his first start of the season, for his first goal.
Paterson, who scored only twice in 45 games last season, ended a 40-game scoreless streak last March against the Sabres, providing the game-winning goal in a 5-3 victory.
This time, his goal was the only mark against Puppa, who hadn't been available until this week after breaking his left index finger last month in training camp.
"He was there when they needed him," Murphy said of Puppa, who faced 26 shots, "but I don't think we tested him a great deal."
The Sabres tied the game on a goal by Clark Gillies less than four minutes after Paterson's, took the lead at the end of the second and scored twice in the last 5:28 as the Kings abandoned their tight-checking style, scrambling around in a vain attempt to create something offensively.
Meanwhile, McNall mused that maybe next time he should threaten to deduct money from the players if they didn't make up for their blunders.