The Buffalo Sabres had their share of dumb luck when things were going their way, but such fortune has a way of turning its back over a long season.
Now it seems they can't catch a break. They hit five goal posts over two games, had two pucks begging to cross the goal line and came away with nothing.
They could blame the hockey gods if it made them feel better. Coach Lindy Ruff blamed the officials during a rant after they disallowed Mike Grier's potential game-tying goal early in the third period Friday night. Sure enough, Ottawa scored a few minutes later and left town with a 3-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,690 in HSBC Arena.
Grier thought he poked home a goal 45 seconds into the third after wedging the puck between Ray Emery's pad and the post. The puck wobbled along the goal line and came excruciatingly close to moving past it before Brian Pothier swatted it away. A five-minute review later, the Sabres were begging for forgiveness. The officials got help from the Toronto office in making the call.
"It looks like they made the correct call," Ruff said. "When you get into a funk like that, the breaks go the other way. We had a lot of great bounces go our way [earlier in the season]. We have to continue to grind away."
It would have been easier to stomach if that was their lone lost opportunity. Earlier in the game, J.P. Dumont redirected Brian Campbell's slap shot off one post, watched it dance along the goal line, bounce off the other post and trickle into safety. The Sabres hit three other posts in a 4-3 loss to Carolina on Wednesday.
No matter how it's added up, it's four straight losses.
"When things are going good, you get bounces that go off legs and in, you get goofy goals going your way," said defenseman Jay McKee, who suffered a broken nose when struck with a rising wrist shot nine minutes into the game but returned in the second period wearing a protective visor. "When it gets tough, it gets real tough."
Buffalo could dismiss a loss or two earlier over the past week considering their place in the Eastern Conference standings and the inevitable hangover that comes with grinding through the schedule at such a high level. A third straight defeat becomes a cause for concern. Four in a row is an all-out slump.
The Sabres aren't about to panic with 13 games remaining in the regular season, but there also is no denying the fact they need to turn things around between now and April 18, the final game of the regular season. They will attempt to end their slump tonight in Boston.
Daniel Alfredsson and Antoine Vermette gave the Senators an early lead before Daniel Briere drew the Sabres within 2-1 midway through the second period. Patrick Eaves gave the Senators a 3-1 lead with a wrist shot into the top corner about four minutes after Grier's goal was waved off in the third.
Ottawa appeared susceptible going into the game considering it was without two of its top defensemen, Zdeno Chara and Anton Volchenkov, and goalie Dominik Hasek. For Buffalo, Tim Connolly missed his fifth straight game while Jochen Hecht missed his fourth.
Buffalo could find the slump-buster it needs tonight. The Sabres have won all six meetings with the Bruins this season by a combined score of 23-12.
The Sabres remained comfortably in fourth place in the conference. Dropping out of the playoffs is nearly impossible. Reaching the postseason has been reduced to little more than a formality.
Buffalo's problems again started early Friday night, and they found themselves down a pair of goals less than seven minutes into the game. Alfredsson scored on Ottawa's second shot, and Vermette made it 2-0 on its third. Buffalo spent the final two periods scrambling against a team that can match its speed and skill.