The Sabres took the ice Monday with the percentages working against them and the probability that their second-half revival is wasting away after losses on consecutive nights to the Penguins and Maple Leafs. Toronto will be back in town tonight, having little reason to play other than to ruin Buffalo's season.
Buffalo remained two points and a tiebreaker behind Washington after the Capitals lost to Tampa Bay on Monday night. Florida was five points ahead. It meant the Sabres, with road games awaiting them in Philadelphia and Boston to complete the season, need to make up three points in their final three games.
The facts show the end is near.
Naturally, you look back now and wonder if the Sabres could have squeezed out three more measly points in their first 79 games. A win and a tie does the trick. Heck, they didn't even need to win in regulation. They could have picked up three more points in overtimes and shootouts. They had three one-goal losses in regulation in their first 10 games.
Buffalo donated a point when Colorado tied the game with 1.9 seconds remaining March 14, the second time the Sabres allowed a late goal in two games. The Sabres had a 15-11-1 record against teams that were in 11th place or worse when the week began. They weren't expected to win them all, but two more victories isn't asking too much.
For the third time in five years, Buffalo will likely miss the playoffs. For the fifth straight year, the Sabres will likely fail to win a playoff series. At least it was a team effort.
The players could have performed better. Lindy Ruff could have coached better. Darcy Regier could have managed better. President Ted Black could have scheduled better, which was why he told the NHL two weeks ago that the Sabres need fewer back-to-back games next season. It means fewer games on Friday nights.
Buffalo has led the league in back-to-back series in each of the past two seasons. It was 7-9-5 this season in the second game, no loss more devastating than the last one. The Sabres had no excuse for losing Saturday to the Leafs, but they looked like a team that had played an up-tempo game the previous night.
Derek Roy praised his teammates for showing "character" during their 19-5-5 surge. Jason Pominville used the same word. So did Tyler Ennis. I'm not trying to split hairs. The Sabres deserve credit for coming together. But if they examine an 82-game season and find uninspired efforts in 25 or more -- and they can -- it reveals a lack of character.
Ruff is held in high regard across the league, but he made his share of mistakes, too. He had a one-line team that looked uninterested when the losses piled up in December and January. He's partly responsible for Brad Boyes and Ville Leino combining for 13 goals and not getting more from Roy and Drew Stafford.
Regier should have traded Paul Gaustad the day after Milan Lucic buried Ryan Miller. Regier wouldn't have received a first-round pick in return, as he did when Gaustad was shipped along with a sixth-rounder at the deadline, but the message would have been strong and clear. And it might have made a difference.
The Sabres needed rescue during their 12-game road losing streak. Any move in December and January might have changed the chemistry. It was certainly worth a try, but Regier once again waited to do his best work until it was too late.
Look, I agreed with Regier when he suggested Marcus Foligno would fill the role of power forward played by Zack Kassian. He didn't explain why Kassian played 27 games in the NHL while Foligno played one before the trade.
Kassian had one assist to show for his final 17 games here. Foligno had an immediate impact and was named rookie of the month. Anyone who watched them play beforehand could see Foligno was more polished.
And there were the injuries. Buffalo was 2-9-2 without Christian Ehrhoff and 7-10-6 without Tyler Myers. That's a fact.
Washington was without its top center, Nicklas Backstrom, for 40 games. Its top defenseman, Mike Green, missed 50. The Caps overcame and had the percentages working for them.
That's a fact, too.