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RUFF TOSSED IN DISMAL LOSS TO HABS

Lindy Ruff had the right idea.

The Buffalo Sabres' coach was ejected during the second period of Friday's game, so he didn't have to watch all of Buffalo's embarrassing 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

The 17,664 in attendance in Marine Midland Arena weren't so lucky. They paid to watch the Sabres' meltdown in a performance that ranked as one of the team's worst efforts in at least a year.

"It's my job to have the team ready to play, and it's their job to perform. We thought we were well-prepared, but there was no performance," Ruff said. "It's unacceptable. . . . We didn't finish checks. Our defense was really soft. Our coverage in our own zone was non-existent."

Randy Burridge added, "It seemed like we were going through the motions out there. It didn't seem like we cared at the start of the game. We weren't intense. We weren't physical. We weren't anything out there. We just stood around, watching."

The loss extended Buffalo's winless streak to three games (0-2-1), and it took less than 10 minutes of play for everyone to realize that a defeat would be added to Buffalo's record. Vincent Damphousse, Vladimir Malakhov and Marc Bureau scored as the Canadiens' piled up 16 shots in that span.

In all three Sabre home games this season, Buffalo has allowed a goal within the first three minutes of play. In losses to the Dallas Stars and Montreal, the goal came in the first minute. The Sabres looked like a team that was uptight about playing in its own building, along the lines of its play on opening night against Dallas.

"That could be true, but I don't think you can allow yourself to be tight at home," Rob Ray said. "It's just another game. You're paid to perform, and it doesn't matter if you are home or on the road. We can't use that inside the dressing room as an excuse. Sure, there's a lot of stuff going on that we can't control, but last year we put all that behind us. . . . Maybe too many guys are feeling that pressure, but we've got to get it out of their minds."

The Sabres did exactly what they didn't want to do in the opening minutes, allowing the quick Canadiens' forwards to skate around at them. The Sabres couldn't keep up with them, and their checking was nowhere to be found.

"We were told all night and all day not to go through the middle on our breakouts," Brad May said. "And we consistently went through the middle."

"There was a lack of effort, determination," Ruff said. "We lost almost every battle in the first period."

Damphousse scored within the first two minutes of the second period to give Montreal a four-goal lead. The fifth goal was the one that led to Ruff's departure for the evening. Brian Holzinger was accidentally high-sticked and fell to the ice in the Montreal zone, but referee Bill McCreary let play continue until goalie Dominik Hasek froze the puck. McCreary blew his whistle to stop play, and called Hasek for delay of game. Ruff couldn't believe it, and earned an extra bench minor for a vigorous protest.

"Once we have possession and there's a guy laying on the ice, it's his (the referee's) job to blow the whistle," the coach said. "What if it was a serious injury? Dominik cares enough to cover it so we can get a guy out to look after our player, and he gives us a penalty."

When Shayne Corson scored on the ensuing five-on-three penalty, Ruff protested some more and was sent to the coach's office for the rest of the evening. He didn't miss a whole lot.

Miroslav Satan scored the Sabres' only goal, ending Jocelyn Thibault's shutout bid with 13:46 left in the game.

The Sabres held a players-only meeting for 10 minutes after the game. They will practice today, fly to Chicago for Sunday afternoon's game with the Blackhawks, and try to figure out what went so terribly wrong Friday.

The game's three stars were Damphousse (two goals and an assist), Malakhov (goal and two assists) and Benoit Brunet (two assists).

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