In hindsight, Buffalo Sabres
goalie Ryan Miller
thought it may actually have been better had his team not jumped out to a 3-1 lead early in the third period of Tuesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators
Something clearly changed once Derek Roy
and Jason Pominville
scored 25 seconds apart — and not for the better. For whatever reason, the Sabres weren’t the same team and allowed five unanswered goals in a 6-3 loss at HSBC Arena.
Combined with Boston’s 6-2 win at Toronto, Buffalo dropped five points behind the No. 8 Bruins with six games remaining in the regular season. The win pulled the Senators even with the New Jersey Devils
for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” Miller said. “I’m not going to get too worked up with the guys. It was bad. It’s a pretty big setback. We pretty much have to run the table (to make the playoffs). It’s definitely going to be difficult, but there’s so many points in the game where we proved we can play with top teams. We just have to be smart.
''Maybe it would have been better if it was 2-1 and we just grind it out,'' he added. ''We made a mistake, and all of a sudden it was ours to lose.”
That’s exactly what Buffalo did, as the Senators scored five times in the final 7:40 to win for just the sixth time in 15 games.
Dean McAmmond got things going for Ottawa with a shorthanded goal that cut the deficit to 3-2, as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Antoine Vermette following some sloppy play by the Sabres in the Ottawa zone.
''Getting that goal was huge,'' Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson said. ''That got us going.''
McAmmond agreed. It reminded him of last year’s squad that reached the Stanley Cup Final.
''It was a good third period for us, and it showed flashes of what you saw last year where we were outskating teams and outworking teams,'' McAmmond said.
Alfredsson tied the game less than two minutes later with his 39th goal of the season. With the teams back at even strength, Alfredsson took a pass from Jason Spezza and roofed a wrist shot over a screened Miller to make it 3-3.
Anton Volchenkov picked a phenomenal time to score his first goal of the season, as he broke the tie with just 1:56 left in regulation. The stay-at-home defenseman took a pass from Alfredsson and ripped a slap shot from the right point that found its way through a crowd and past Miller.
''He's our sniper,'' Alfredsson said of Volchenkov, who also added a pair of assists in a win that moved the Senators within five points of the Montreal Canadiens for the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference lead.
Alfredsson picked up his second goal of the night — and 40th of the season — just 16 seconds after Volchenkov gave Ottawa the lead. Vermette iced the victory with an empty-net tally with a second remaining.
The sudden turn of events left the Sabres reeling.
“It’s devastating,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “That really hurts. There’s areas of the game we played well and there’s areas we need to play better. We’ll focus on the areas we think we need to improve in. We’ve just got to move forward. We can’t sit on it, as much as it hurts. You can’t feel sorry for yourselves at this time of the year.”
With time running out in the Sabres’ season, Buffalo will look to keep its very slim playoff hopes alive on Thursday night when the teams conclude a home-and-home series at Scotiabank Place.
“To be in the third period up by two goals, we had them where we wanted to,” Pominville said.
“You’ve got to play 60 minutes to win a game. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that tonight. It’s not the first time we weren’t able to do it.”
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.