One second left, one point squandered.
The Buffalo Sabres, still desperately trying to grasp and gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race, held a fragile 4-3 lead over the Colorado Avalanche in the 3rd period. As time was winding down, a sporadic scramble suddenly began to develop in front of, and all around, Sabres net-minder Ryan Miller.
The play began as Gabriel Landeskog rushed up the ice and entered the Sabres zone, firing a shot on Miller that was kicked into the corner. There, from a poor angle, Ryan O’Reilly took a desperation shot. The shot had eyes, and found its way through the maze of mayhem and madness. The loose puck was spotted by Jamie McGinn, who frantically started swiping at the loose puck as it sat inches away from the Buffalo goal line, until he pushed it through for the tying goal.
The scoreboard showed just 0.7 seconds left in regulation. For the second time in three nights, the Sabres were just seconds from putting away a game. In Monday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, the same Sabres were just 5 seconds away from a regulation win, when Montreal tied the game. Buffalo went on to win that match, but against the red-hot Avalanche (9-3 in last 12 games), it was not to be.
Peter Mueller scored the only goal of the shootout. Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov stopped the attempts he faced from Brad Boyes, Jason Pominville, and Tyler Ennis. After the stop on Ennis, Varlamov celebrated as if he had won the Stanley Cup.
The point picked up by the 9th-place Sabres gives them 75 points on the season. Washington still holds the 8th and final playoff spot with 78 points, and also has a game in hand on Buffalo.
At this point, every available point is critical for the Sabres to maintain their playoff aspirations. It has been estimated (by Buffalo GM Darcy Regier) that they will need approximately 92 points to make the postseason – meaning they would need to obtain 17 of the final 22 points remaining. They would have to finish the final 11 games with an 8-2-1 record, if not better.
The remainder of the schedule for the Sabres includes 7 games against teams holding playoff spots. The final 2 games of the season are against the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins – the same teams that knocked Buffalo out of the playoffs in the previous 2 seasons. Buffalo travels to Washington to face those Caps they are trying to catch on March 27th.
Speaking of caps, the game featured a plethora of them being tossed on the ice. It took former Sabre Mike Foligno 9 games to score his first 3 NHL goals. It took his son and current Ottawa Senator Nick Foligno 19 games to get his first 3. Last night, Marcus Foligno netted 2 early goals for Buffalo, in just his 4th NHL game. Later, in the 3rd period, it appeared that Foligno had a hat trick. The sold out crowd at First Niagara Center went bonkers, as the hats rained down. A few minutes later, it was announced that Alexander Sulzer was credited with the goal instead.
The crowd seated in the 300’s was equally as amped for the potential signing of Mario Williams by the Buffalo Bills, as chants of “Mario Will-iams” reigned supreme throughout the first 2 periods. It was announced just a few minutes ago that Williams has now signed with the NFL’s Bills.
Despite controlling much of the game with strong skating and winning battles for the puck, last night’s game marked the 4th time in the last 5 that the Sabres faltered with the game winding down. In games against the Winnipeg Jets and Boston Bruins last week, the Sabres held a 1-1 tie with less than 10 minutes remaining, only to lose both games 3-1.
“Frustrating,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff after the game. “You play with fire, you get burnt. We should have had a D in front of the net, and one of the defensemen was behind the net.”
If these Buffalo Sabres want to have a strong finish to the season, first, they must learn how to finish strong in games.