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Remember just about 10 days ago, when Buffalo Sabres General Manager Gerry Meehan said he would like to see his team in first place by the first of the year?

He doesn't have a chance.

The Sabres Thursday fell 14 points behind the first-place Bruins, losing by a 4-1 score in another game that brought into question the team's ability to win.

And at least one Bruin, winger Chris Nilan, questioned Rick Dudley's ability to coach.

"It's always guys like Dudley," Nilan said after the coach sent out his tough guys to rough up the Bruins at the end of the game. "Guys like Dudley who never had any (nerve) when they played the game do these kinds of things."

Meehan didn't appear to enjoy the spectacle much either, leaving the press box before the game was over.

Buffalo was behind almost from the start. The Sabres didn't skate all that well, looked confused on offense and were much slower than the Bruins. They also looked leaderless, even more so than when they had a captain.

But Buffalo also lost because it got more penalties than the Bruins. Buffalo would hit and go to the box. The Bruins would hold and then go to the net. It's part of a trend too obvious to ignore anymore. When the Sabres come to play, the referees send them to the box. It's been happening since Dudley was tossed from a game in Los Angeles allegedly for being abusive to the referee.

The Sabres are also getting goonish. Beat them badly and they finish the game trying to beat you up. It's happened on more than one occasion now and this time Nilan punched back, first with his fists, then with his mouth.

"Dudley's just worried about his job," Nilan, whose nickname is 'Knuckles', said after the Sabres hit on a number of Bruins and then sent out a closing line that had Rob Ray centering for Dean Kennedy and Lou Franceschetti with Brian Curran and Jay Wells at defense -- five guys with a total of five goals among them. "It's always the guy who didn't have the gumption on the ice (who does that). It's obvious what he's doing but he's going about it the wrong way . . . It's obvious he's going to be on the unemployment line."

It was also obvious that Nilan was enjoying sticking it to Dudley, but he could afford to be smug.

The first-place Bruins outskated the Sabres, who have lost six of their last seven games, and controlled the game almost from the opening faceoff. They used good goaltending by Andy Moog and timely scoring to win it. The Buffalo goal was on a shot by Mike Ramsey that bounced in off the stick of Bruin Don Sweeney.

The Bruins got goals from Jim Wiemer, Cam Neely, Randy Burridge and Vladimir Ruzicka.

Wiemer, a former Sabre, scored in the first period. Neely and Burridge pushed the score to 3-0 in the second before Ramsey scored. Ruzicka snuffed out any hopes of a Sabres comeback in the third when he skated unchecked through the neutral zone, deked defenseman Uwe Krupp out of the building, put Sabres goaltender Daren Puppa on the seat of his pants and tucked the puck into the open net.

Only Ruzicka's goal was on the power play, but Ray was just exiting the box when Neely scored and Buffalo had just recovered from killing a penalty when Burridge scored. The Sabres took 17 penalties for 51 minutes. The Bruins got 15 for 47, but most of theirs came after the game had been won.

Dudley, when informed of Nilan's remarks, said: "That's fine."

Dudley said the penalties took his team out of the game and then went into his standard speech about the unfortunate amount of holding and hooking that goes on in the NHL today. "I guess it's OK to hook and hold but it isn't OK to hit," he said.

Buffalo received credit for just 23 shots on goal and although the Garden count is about as accurate as its goal judges, the offense was about that bad.

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