First place was 60 minutes away, and the Buffalo Sabres let the first 40 go without a fight.
"When you get outworked like we were tonight, that's just plain embarrassing to me," Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said Saturday after the Sabres lost again to the Ottawa Senators in Scotiabank Place, 4-2.
The Sabres could have passed Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead with a regulation victory. Instead, their eight-game winning streak came to a deflating end and they fell three points back of the Senators.
The way the Sabres fell rankled many, no one more than Briere. The Senators took a 3-1 lead into the third period, and it would have been drastically worse if it weren't for goaltender Ryan Miller. The Sabres were outshot, 35-9, through the opening 40 minutes, and only a third-period comeback attempt narrowed the final margin to 49-22.
"We were never in that game," Briere said. "We got close by one goal in the third period, but the only reason was Ryan Miller keeping us in there to have a chance.
"I was frustrated at the way we showed up tonight. It was supposed to be our biggest game, and we just had too many passengers."
Added Sabres coach Lindy Ruff: "There wasn't many guys that can stay on the bus. You've pretty well gotta throw them off the bus at different times."
The Sabres had a chance to not only move into the Northeast Division lead, they could have moved within a point of Eastern Conference leader Carolina. The Hurricanes lost to Boston, 4-2. Instead, it's Ottawa which is tied for the lead with the 'Canes as the Sabres remained three points back.
"For us it wasn't so much about winning or losing," Briere said. "It's about showing up and proving to ourselves that we belong with the best team in the NHL. We show up with no effort by so many guys, that's just embarrassing. I don't know how to explain it, but there's definitely an issue here that we'll have to resolve before the playoffs start."
The 49 shots allowed were the most by the Sabres this season, and even the Ottawa fans applauded Miller when he came out for a wave as the first star. Miller stopped the first 10 shots he faced, but Peter Schaefer converted a big rebound on a two-on-one to open the scoring. It was 8:57 into the game, and the shots were 11-1.
Miller robbed Dany Heatley after dazzling no-look pass across the crease by Jason Spezza on a five-on-three, but Zdeno Chara slid in the rebound to make it 2-0. It was 12:09 into the game, and the shots were 15-1.
The Senators finished the opening period with a 22-5 advantage. Heatley matched the Sabres' shot total on his own.
"We've been ripping up right behind them, and they really wanted this one," Miller said. "You could tell."
When Bryan Smolinski scored 7:53 into the second period, the score was 3-0 and the shots were 30-6.
"We came out hard. When this team does that, we make it hard on other teams," Senators goalie Ray Emery said. "I don't think it's surprising. We know what we're capable of. It's just a matter of doing it."
Maxim Afinogenov scored just 46 seconds after Smolinski to give the Sabres some comeback hope. Briere made it a one-goal game on the power play with 10:29 remaining.
But in the third period Dmitri Kalinin missed an open net, Derek Roy hit a post and Taylor Pyatt did the same with 1:02 to go, giving Ottawa the chance to pull away. It did as Chris Kelly scored an empty netter with 11.9 seconds to play to drop the Sabres to 0-3 in Ottawa this season.
"Coming up here, it seems like we get a little too worked up," co-captain Chris Drury said, "and it shows in the score the first two periods."