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Buffalo Sabres need more size, defence to contend for Stanley Cup

That's the lesson the Sabres' brain trust takes into the off-season after reviewing how a team that led the NHL with 53 wins and 308 goals in the regular season was eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight year.

"When we got into tough situations, we addressed them usually by trying to score our way out of it," general manager Darcy Regier said. "And it worked for the most part in the regular season. But I don't think it works that well in the playoffs. . . . So, if we were to look at one area, it would be: 'Let's figure out a way to prevent goals."'

Regier shared his conclusions Thursday, when the team announced he and coach Lindy Ruff signed new contracts. The press conference turned into a belated end of season review, the first chance Regier and Ruff had to sum up a disappointing year since the Sabres were eliminated by Ottawa in five games.

It was a tough end for Ruff, who believed the team had the makings of a Cup contender.

"I don't think we met our own expectations, and that was the tough part," Ruff said. "I think there's some areas defensively where we can get better."

Buffalo had been touted as a contender from the start of the year after retaining most of the core team that lost Game 7 of last year's conference finals to eventual champion Carolina.

The Sabres lived up to their billing in the regular season, which they opened by winning 10 straight to match an NHL record. And they proved slump-proof throughout the regular season, when the team never lost more than three consecutive games.

It was an 82-game run in which the Sabres became only the fourth team since 1996-97 to feature four 30-goal scorers, and were resilient in winning 10 games in which they trailed by two goals.

The success didn't translate into the playoffs. After dispatching the New York Islanders in five games and the New York Rangers in six, Buffalo wilted against the Senators. Ottawa limited the Sabres to 10 goals, including the Senators' 1-0 win in Game 3, when Buffalo managed just 15 shots.

Ruff sensed the Sabres' deficiencies in the early rounds, noting how the team struggled to find its rhythm against tight-checking defensive schemes.

"Teams defended and played defence harder than they tied to score," Ruff said of the low-scoring playoffs. "And you can't try to counter by trying to score and giving the other team opportunities."

Buffalo finished third in the playoffs, averaging 2.75 goals a game, but gave up a playoff-worst 2.44. The Sabres were particular poor at killing penalties, allowing 14 goals, second-most behind champion Anaheim.

The Sabres overall team size and grit was an issue, and it didn't help that they played most of the postseason without the injured Paul Gaustad, a hard-hitting six-foot-five left wing. The Sabres also failed to re-sign stalwart defenceman Jay McKee and defensive forward Mike Grier, who played key roles in the team's 2006 playoff run.


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