PHILADELPHIA – Ryan Miller’s look said it all, staring vacantly over the heads of the reporters that surrounded him in an eerily quiet locker room after Buffalo’s 81st game of the season. A valiant 24-game run from the depths of the standings, to the brink of postseason contention, had come to an end at the hands of a 25-year-old rookie.
Matt Read’s wrist shot with 4:21 left in the third period was the game winner, as the Philadelphia Flyers edged the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 at Wells Fargo Center. The loss, coupled with Washington’s 4-2 win over Florida, officially eliminated Buffalo from qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
“It’s embarrassing to miss the playoffs. We have a lot of talented players. We just couldn’t get it going early enough. You run out of time, and you run out of games,” said Miller, who made 33 saves in the loss. “It comes down to basically going on a bigger tear than any other team in the league has gone on the entire year, just to try and make the playoffs. That’s not how you do it in this league. We got bit this year. Last year we got away with it.
“It’s not fun, but we did it to ourselves well before this game. To keep ourselves in a strong position to make the playoffs, we had to chase. Not a good feeling; pretty embarrassing.”
“I agree,” said head coach Lindy Ruff. “I know we were a little short on the backend, but I agree.”
Buffalo came into the game already down defensemen Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff to injury, and then had to play without Alexander Sulzer who flew home to Nashville this afternoon to tend to a personal matter. Rookie TJ Brennan took Sulzer’s spot on a blueline that already included youngster Brayden McNabb.
Read’s goal came late in the third with the score deadlocked at 1-1. He stepped into the Buffalo zone, squeezed past Robyn Regehr along the boards, before cutting hard to the slot where he beat Miller with a wrist shot just below the glove.
Miller had stopped Read with a sprawling save on a shorthanded breakaway late in the first, and quickly recalled that play as the Flyers rookie skated towards him.
“I had poke checked him earlier; I thought he’d wait me out. I just tried to come across with him,” Miller explained. “I really thought he was gonna go higher with that shot, but he put it underneath. I don’t know if he was trying to do it or what, but if he was, it a pretty nice shot.”
Regardless of the shot, Miller knows that’s a save he should make at that point in a game of this magnitude.
“It just comes down to Robyn probably wants to play that better, and I want to make a save for the guys. So for the two of us at the end of the night it gets magnified, and we both had to make a better play.”
“I think he just hesitated a second,” Ruff said of Regehr’s play on Read along the boards. “When he didn’t back up, he tried to make a move and stumbled.”
After a scoreless first period, Buffalo took a 1-0 lead late in the second period on a goal by former Flyer Ville Leino.
The play started when Drew Stafford barely missed with a baseball swing backhand shot that rang off the left post as Ilya Bryzgalov came out to stop him. But with the puck sitting in the abandoned crease, Leino dove in behind defenseman Matt Carle to bury the rebound at 17:26.
Marc-Andre Bourdon evened things up just over six minutes into the third, unloading a bomb from the point that found its way through a screen in front and behind Miller.
Buffalo limited Philadelphia’s scoring chances throughout the game, and appeared to have momentum on their side following a come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win over Toronto on Tuesday. Coupled with a 15-4-4 run since February 16, and a record of 25-0-2 when leading after two periods this season, fate would almost dictate that Buffalo would find a way to win the game.
“We played a pretty solid game. We got the turnovers we wanted. We just didn’t finish our opportunities,” said Ruff. “We didn’t finish our good chances. Some of them we didn’t get shots, a couple we missed the net. (Bryzgalov) made a good save on (Marcus) Foligno on that one play, but there were too many good chances by the wayside.”
The Sabres flew to Boston immediately after the game, and will face the Bruins in the final game of the season on Saturday at 4 p.m.
SABRES NOTES: Buffalo hadn't lost a game in regulation in the month of April since a 2-1 defeat in New Jersey on April 11, 2010... The point streaks of Tyler Ennis (four games), Jason Pominville (four games), Jordan Leopold (three games) and Marcus Foligno (two games) all came to an end tonight… Buffalo failed to score at least three goals for the first time in 10 games – the last being a 3-2 loss in Florida on March 17… Tyler Myers (foot), Christian Ehrhoff (knee), Alexander Sulzer (healthy-personal), Matt Ellis (healthy) and Brad Boyes (healthy) were Buffalo’s scratches… Philadelphia swept all four games from Buffalo for just the fifth time in 41 seasons, and for the first time since 2008-09.