The Buffalo Sabres are close to being eliminated from playoff contention just one season after winning the Presidents' Trophy.
Coming off another disappointing loss, the Sabres look to bounce back Sunday in their home finale and remain in the Eastern Conference playoff race when they face the Boston Bruins.
Buffalo's 4-3 overtime loss to Montreal on Friday was another blow to its already slim hopes of reaching the postseason after capturing the Presidents' Trophy with a league-best 113 points in 2006-07.
With four games remaining, the Sabres (36-30-12) are 10th in the East, six points back of Boston (40-28-10), which won 4-0 over Ottawa on Saturday and currently owns the final playoff spot. Buffalo closes out the regular season in Boston on Saturday.
The Sabres are on the verge of joining the 1969-70 Canadiens and 1992-93 New York Rangers as the only teams since 1967-68 to miss the playoffs the season after finishing atop the regular-season standings.
"Until we're mathematically out of it, or we falter, it's 'We have to move forward,"' said goalie Ryan Miller, who finished with 25 saves while setting the Sabres' single-season record with his 73rd appearance Friday. "We need a little help, but we need to help ourselves. So our mind-set is to take care of business and see what happens."
|The Sabres had the best record in the NHL last season but will be fighting for their playoff lives this evening when they host the Boston Bruins, who hold a six-point lead over Buffalo for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
Nathan Paetsch, Daniel Paille and Drew Stafford scored Friday for Buffalo, which blew a two-goal lead in the third period for the second time in three games.
After not squandering a two-goal lead at all in 2006-07, the Sabres have done so six times this season. In the most recent meeting with the Bruins on Feb. 8, Buffalo was unable to hold a 2-0 lead at home and fell 3-2 in a shootout.
"You look at the past, we were able to shut down and play solid defense," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. "We've kind of slipped away from that, and it's cost us points lately. It's cost us games. And those points, we've needed."
Pominville, who had an assist Friday to extend his point streak to seven games, has three assists in his last two contests versus Boston, while Paille has three goals versus the Bruins in 2007-08.
Boston, which looks for a fourth straight victory Sunday, is 4-1-1 versus the Sabres this season.
Tim Thomas made 34 saves for his third shutout Saturday for the Bruins.
"It's step up or go home," said Thomas, who is 2-1-1 with a 2.43 goals-against average versus Buffalo this season. "Fortunately, we seem to be stepping up."
David Krejci had a goal and two assists, while Marco Sturm added a goal and assist for the Bruins, who are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2002-03.
"We're going in the right direction, but so many things can change so quickly with so few games left," said Boston coach Claude Julien, whose team opens a three-game road trip Sunday. "I don't know what it's going to take, but we have to keep going here until we clinch a spot."
Krejci has scored two of his five goals on the season in his last three contests. Sturm, meanwhile, has a goal in three straight games overall and three goals against the Sabres this season.