NY Rangers say, "Please!" Buffalo Sabres respond, No, thank you!"
That's right, in spite of their late season swoon after goalie Ryan Miller was injured, if the Sabres won all of their remaining five games, they would make the playoffs even if the other two teams vying for the eighth spot, the Rangers and the Florida Panthers, also won all their remaining games.
First order of business: Defeat the New Jersey Devils on home ice Saturday night in Buffalo. The Devils had lost six of their last seven games. Like the Sabres, the Devils had played an overtime game the night before.
The opportunity was there for the taking.
But the Sabres inexplicably came out flat. They were behind 1-0 within the first three minutes, as Ryan Miller appeared to not see or misplay David Clarksons's long wrist shot.
When Zach Parise deflected in another point shot after Henrik Tallinder fanned on clearing the puck during a Devil's power-play, the Devils were up 2-0 with just 5:38 gone in the first.
The only spark the Sabres showed was when the Devil's Zach Parise skated in on Miller who was handling the puck behind the net and not only slashed but also slew-footed the Buffalo netminder.
It was a foul eerily similar to what the Rangers Scott Gomez had done to Miller about a month ago, with Miller suffering a high ankle sprain and the Sabres spiraling out of playoff contention.
Tonight, Tim Connolly forcibly delivered the shaft of his hockey stick between Parise's shoulder blades and a scrum ensured with even Miller involved. Amazingly, when the penalties were sorted out, the Sabres were shorthanded.
The Sabres have gotten some bad calls this year, but this had to be one of the worst.
It was the kind of injustice that should have made the Sabres blood boil and fire them up to take over the game, especially after they killed off the penalty.
But the Sabres spent the rest of the first period gliding around, chasing the puck, and in general looking like a team that had no interest in playing for Lord Stanley's silverware.
The second period looked like more of the first. Sabre defenseman Andres Sekera was undressed, knocked down, and otherwise humiliated as the Devils took the puck from him and fired the puck past the helpless Miller for a 3-0 lead.
The Sabres were so lifeless, Coach Lindy Ruff pulled Miller and inserted backup goalie Mikael Tellqvist to start the third period.
Whatever did it, the Sabres began to wake up and skate. They were rewarded at 6:08 when the all but invisible Jochen Hecht backhanded in the puck off a goal-mouth scramble.
Buffalo began to dominate, taking the play to the Devils and controlling the puck in the Devil end. With 3:42 to go, the Sabres made it even more interesting as Clark MacArthur back-handed the puck inside the post.
With 35 seconds left, the Devils' Colin White helped out even more by shooting the puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty.
But when, on the ensuing six-on-four, the Sabres managed to slide the puck across the net to a waiting Derek Roy, he could not get his stick on it to deflect it past Martin Brodeur and the Devils hung on for the 3-2 victory.
As with the entire Sabres' season, this was a game of a little too little too late that left the fan's with many questions:
- Why can't the Sabres play the way they did in the third period for the entire game? Especially when there are just five games left in the season. And if you win everyone you are in the Play-offs.
- What has happened to Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera and why was he in the line-up tonight? Once touted as a young offensive defenseman in the mode of Brian Campbell, Sekera has been brutal on defense and adding nothing on offense. Just a week ago, when he was benched in favor of veteran Teppo Numminen, Sekera said, "I've fallen in a deep hole. I've felt that way the last couple of games. Anybody can see that." After benching Sekera for a game, Ruff put him back in the line-up and his botched play led to the winning goal.
- Why does Ryan Miller appear to not see so many shots from the point? He didn't move on Clarkson's wrister for the Devils' first goal. Last night against Washington, he appeared not to see either of Sergei Fedorov's shots. Is Buffalo's defense that bad at clearing the screening forwards from in front, or does Miller have a problem with long shots?