It would have been a nice milestone, for sure, but the Sabres just wanted to get out of town healthy and get ready to make a run at their first Stanley Cup championship.
Mike Knuble and Mike Richards scored third-period goals to rally Philadelphia to a 4-3 win over Buffalo on Sunday.
The loss was only an inconvenient blip for the top-seeded Sabres as they head into the post-season with the best record in the NHL and home-ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“You don’t want a key injury in a game like this that means absolutely nothing to you,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “It was two teams that didn’t throw a lot of hits. As a players, you don’t want to get hurt on your exit game. It was pretty mildly contested on both sides.”
That will change this week when the Sabres face either the New York Islanders or Toronto in the first round.
“We’re in good shape,” Ruff said. “We’ve been playing real good hockey, we’ve tightened up defensively and we’ve gotten ourselves healthy, which is important.”
Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy all scored for the Sabres. Buffalo finished with a franchise record for wins (53-22-7) and tied the 1974-75 team’s record of 113 points.
“Expectations were high at the start of the season and we wanted to be the best team,” Pominville said. “To be able to maintain this level all season has been something that we’re happy about. Everybody’s healthy now and we’re right where we want to be. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
That 1974-75 Sabres team lost to the Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals, the second of back-to-back Cups for Philadelphia. This year’s Flyers will be remembered for different reasons.
Philadelphia finished with the most losses and fewest points in its 40-year history (22-48-12; 56 points) and needed this victory to reach 10 home wins. The Flyers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994.
Simon Gagne scored his 41st goal and Stefan Ruzicka also scored. Martin Biron was strong with 30 saves in his first game against the team that sent him to Philly at the trade deadline.
“They kept saying little comments that only me would know what they’re talking about,” Biron said. “It brought a few smiles to my face during the game. It keep me loose. It was fun.”
At least the Flyers went out a bit of a high note, rallying for goals against Sabres backup goalie Ty Conklin.
The Sabres went ahead 3-2 in the final minute of the second period when Roy scored his 21st goal and extended his scoring streak to six games.
Normally, that would have been enough to deflate the Flyers. Their locker room was quiet during the second intermission as another tight game seemed to have slipped away.
Coach John Stevens snapped them out of their silence and told them they only had 20 more minutes of hockey left on the season and to go out and make something of their time. With the Sabres going through the motions, the Flyers got ready for a comeback and Knuble led the way.
Knuble shot the puck off Conklin’s stick to score his 24th goal of the season and quiet those rising “Let’s go, Buffalo!” chants. Yes, it truly is an awful season in Philly when the Sabres fans are more vocal than the so-called most intimidating fans in the NHL.
Knuble also helped set up the winner. His wraparound shot was stuffed by Conklin, but Richards crashed the net and poked the puck through for his 10th goal and a 4-3 lead.
“They need to get ready for the playoffs, they didn’t want to get hurt and I don’t think they played their best game tonight,” Gagne said.
The Flyers led 2-1 in the second, but Pominville tied the score after it appeared that Flyers defenceman Derian Hatcher nudged the puck over the line.
Stevens will hold exit meetings with the players on Monday and Tuesday.
“We will talk about the off-season and what lies ahead next year and how important the preparation is going to be,” he said.
Notes: Buffalo eliminated the Flyers from the playoffs last season, then beat them 9-1 in October, leading to the hasty firing of coach Ken Hitchcock and resignation of general manager Bobby Clarke. Clarke later returned as a senior vice president. “Overall, I think we’re a better team than we were in October, but still, there’s a lot of work to do,” Gagne said. … Sabres C Tim Connolly played his second game in two days in his return from a concussion sustained in last year’s playoffs. “For the amount of time that I’ve had, I feel pretty good,” he said.