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Sabres seal their dubious fate: last place in NHL

The agitation was bubbling to the surface in Kyle Okposo. He clenched his teeth. He tilted his head. Twice, he bit his tongue to prevent profanities from escaping.

It wasn't so much that Buffalo became the first team in NHL history to finish 31st in a 31-team league. It was that the Sabres went down to the 30th-place team without much of a fight.

"It's the last home game of the year and they're in the position that they're in, and they worked harder than we did," Okposo said Wednesday after a 4-2 loss to Ottawa. "They didn't do anything special. They just got it by our D and went and forechecked, and we didn't have an answer for that. That's what's frustrating about it."

The season of frustration is over for the fans in KeyBank Center, who watched the Sabres limp out of their home schedule with another lackadaisical loss. Buffalo's season of shame will conclude with a record of 11-25-4 downtown.

"It's definitely not the way we wanted to end at home," right wing Jason Pominville said. "It's frustrating, disappointing, whatever word we can find. The bottom line is it's not good enough."

All it was good enough for was last place overall. For the third time in five years, the Sabres will finish at the bottom of the NHL. They clinched the spot with the loss to Ottawa, which moved five points ahead of Buffalo with only two games to play.

Though it was a long time coming, the realization that Buffalo is the worst was stunning for some players.

"I don't think anyone coming in envisioned this," Pominville said. "Certainly not myself being on the outside coming in and hoping that we'd be headed in the right direction. Sometimes we are, but for the most part we're not. We take steps forward, and then we take a couple back.

"I still don't believe we should be where we're at, but we are there. Things got to change."

Mike Harrington: Home was not where Sabres' hearts were

Once again, the Sabres will be hoping to hit the draft lottery. They'll have an 18.5 percent chance of winning the first overall pick, but they could slide as low as fourth when the league conducts the draw April 28.

Even getting the top pick won't be a cure-all for this team.

"Whoever is going to be back here next year, we really need to take a good, long, hard look at ourselves," Okposo said, "and are we doing everything that we can do to be the best player that we can be?

"Everybody in here needs to take a couple steps in their play and the way that we play every night and the maturity. We've got to do a little soul-searching."

In addition to soul-searching, they've just got to give an effort. Buffalo's Ryan O'Reilly scored 30 seconds into the game Wednesday. The next highlight didn't come until late in the second period when Okposo scored.

"It’s disappointing," coach Phil Housley said. "You get the start you want, and we think it’s going to be an easy game. They start to come out and check hard, guys are beating us up the ice. I just think we didn’t have enough investment from our players, particularly it being the last home game.

"We needed to be better. We needed to give more to our fans, and by the time we get a push it’s too late. … We needed to have more investment from a lot of guys in our room."

The Wraparound: Ottawa Senators 4, Buffalo Sabres 2

There will be different guys in the room next year. It's just a matter of who and how many.

"That's the reality when you're in this position," Okposo said. "That's the nature of the business. It's a success-oriented business, and we didn't have a lot of success. We brought new coaches and management in here this year, so we need to look at ourselves as players."

When they look at themselves, they'll see the first team to ever finish 31st. It's what they deserved, though it's not what they expected.

"You can expect all you want," O'Reilly said. "It comes down to doing it and getting better. Obviously, we got worse."

What's next for Buffalo's aging KeyBank Center?

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