PHILADELPHIA – Buffalo centre Tyler Ennis sat dejected, staring down at a half-full equipment bag. Slowly, he picked himself up, leaned forward and began to untape.
Asked for his thoughts on the Sabres’ elimination from post-season contention, Ennis stared straight ahead, tousled his sweat-soaked hair, and solemnly said: “Not right now.”
Not now. Not in the post-season, either.
With their faint playoff hopes riding at least on wins in their final two games, the Sabres failed to finish a longshot rally that brought them to the brink of the post-season.
Matt Read and Marc-Andre Bourdon each scored third period goals to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 2-1 win Thursday night over Buffalo that eliminated the Sabres.
“It’s disappointing. It’s embarrassing to miss the playoffs,” Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. “We have a lot of talented players on this team and we just didn’t get it going early enough this season.”
The Sabres needed to beat the Flyers to stay alive heading into their final game of the season. The Sabres failed to handle the Flyers, and when the Capitals beat Florida 4-2, Buffalo was done.
Buffalo tried to join the 1994 New York Islanders in becoming the NHL’s second team to rally from a 10-point deficit in mid-February to make the playoffs.
Miller stopped 33 shots, yet he was beat by Read on a breakaway with 4:21 left in the game to end Buffalo’s bid.
The Sabres were suddenly back in the hunt after completing a frantic comeback by rallying from a pair of two-goal third period deficits in a 6-5 overtime win over Toronto on Tuesday. That pulled Buffalo even with Washington.
The Sabres mounted a remarkable second-half surge in which they went 20-7-5 in last 32 games entering Thursday.
The 33rd game did them in.
“We just didn’t finish,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We had our chances, and we didn’t get the kind of shots we needed. There were far too many chances by the wayside.”
The Flyers secured the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference after Pittsburgh’s 5-2 win over the New York Rangers. The Penguins will play the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round.
“I feel confident about where we went in the month of March and how we played in April,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
The Flyers eliminated the Sabres in Game 7 of the opening-round playoff series last season.
Buffalo grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second when Ville Leino played spoiler against his former team.
Leino, part of Philadelphia’s 2010 Eastern Conference championship team, scored his eighth goal with 2:34 left in the second period. He was in the crease to knock a rebound into an empty net after Ilya Bryzgalov strayed to block the previous shot. Bryzgalov had 25 saves.
Leino was fifth on the Flyers last season in scoring with a career-best 53 points (19 goals, 34 assists). The Sabres signed him to a $27-million, six-year deal and he hasn’t come close to matching that production.
Bourdon tied the game early in the third with a slapper that spoiled Miller’s shutout bid.
Read took the puck at centre ice and went all the way to beat Miller for the late winner, crushing playoff dreams in upstate New York.
Washington has 90 points to Buffalo’s 88. The Capitals own the tiebreaker because they have more non-shootout wins.
The Sabres were tentative early and took only three shots in the first period.
“We did this to ourselves,” Miller said.
It’s sure to be a heated post-season series when the Flyers and Penguins open next week in Pittsburgh. Laviolette was fined $10,000 after calling out counterpart Dan Bylsma for sending out his checking line late in Philadelphia’s 6-3 win at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Penguins assistant Tony Granato, who stepped on the top of the side boards and in between the two head coaches, was also fined $2,500.
They face each other Saturday in the regular-season finale.
“It’s going to be weird knowing the game doesn’t mean anything,” Flyers forward Claude Giroux said.
Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr interrupted a Giroux interview scrum in the locker room with a wide smile as he listed to the Q&A.
“You ever play in the playoffs before?” Giroux asked Jagr.
Jagr smiled and yelled, “I never missed the playoffs,” as he walked away smiling.
Oh, Jagr’s missed the playoffs before. But he has won a pair of Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh and is back in the post-season after spending the last three seasons in Russia. It’s his turn now to play spoiler in Pittsburgh—just like the Flyers did for Buffalo.
Notes: The Flyers presented their year-end awards before the game. Giroux was named team MVP, Kimmo Timonen was outstanding defenceman, Scott Hartnell won most improved player, and Jagr was named the Flyer who best illustrates character, dignity and respect for the sport both on and off the ice. … The Flyers swept the season series 4-0. … The Flyers finished 22-13-6 at home.