Things had been going so well. The Buffalo Sabres were winning, the home fans were happy and the climb up the standings had begun.
Then the Ottawa Senators showed up on the schedule. As usual, things fell apart quickly in Sabreland.
After two straight meetings, the Sabres' world has been turned upside down. They are losing and the home fans are booing. They had every right Wednesday night.
The Sabres, coming off a three-day respite, sustained a disturbing 3-1 loss in HSBC Arena. The Senators' special teams steamrolled the Sabres' unit, eliciting jeers from the 18,690 in attendance. The Sabres earned just one of four points against the Senators, who entered the miniseries on a four-game winless streak and sit in 13th place in the Eastern Conference.
"It is a step back," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "You can't be happy with that."
The Sabres' power play figured to struggle with the loss of leading scorer Thomas Vanek to a broken jaw, and it certainly did. Statistics often don't tell the whole story, but the numbers from Wednesday do:
The Sabres went 1 for 12 with the man-advantage, with the only goal coming on a five-on-three.
The Sabres' penalty killers allowed two goals on six chances, including one on Ottawa's first shot of the game.
Obviously, it wasn't pretty for the home folks, who'd seen five straight victories at the foot of Washington Street.
"You get 12 opportunities, and to only come out with a five-on-three goal is unacceptable," Sabres center Tim Connolly said. "It's definitely going to cost you games. Early on, I thought we got some pucks to the net. After that, I thought we didn't get enough pucks to the net, didn't get enough traffic, and we just didn't put the work in."
As few fans need reminding, the Senators usually make themselves at home in Buffalo. They improved to 18-6-4 against the Sabres since 2005-06, including 9-3-3 in the arena. Toss in the teams' two playoff meetings, and Ottawa is 13-4-3 in HSBC Arena during that time.
The Ottawa power play kicked off the goal scoring -- literally. Jason Spezza drove hard to the Sabres' net, and Brendan Bell's pass hit Spezza's skate and went past goaltender Ryan Miller with six minutes gone.
The Senators made it 3-0 midway through the second period on goals 2:31 apart. Shean Donovan started the run, taking advantage of the Sabres' inability to clear the puck. They whiffed on two chances to exit their zone, and Donovan fired a shot just under the crossbar with Jarkko Ruutu obstructing Miller.
The Senators' power play scored its second of the night with 7:45 left. Daniel Alfredsson's unobstructed slap shot went under the arm of Miller, who admitted he was flustered from not getting a goaltender interference call on the second goal.
"I didn't react to that very well," Miller said. "A bad goal, bad timing, bad mistake. I made the mountain a little higher, and it turned into a game that got frustrating."
Though the refs failed to flag Ruutu, they did call goaltender interference three times on the Senators.
"That's the idea right now, I guess, to get ahold of me," Miller said. "So, great, we can play that game. I'm skinny, but I'll push out, I'll play tougher."
The Sabres' inefficiency on special teams was fully exposed late in the second. Ottawa defenseman Jason Smith earned a six-minute penalty for roughing Patrick Kaleta with 6:57 left. It gave Buffalo a chance to enter the third period with a smaller deficit and a boost in momentum.
Neither happened. The first two-plus minutes were uneventful, and Drew Stafford cut two minutes off the man-advantage with a cross-checking penalty. When he came out of the box, nothing much happened again.
It took a five-on-three for the Sabres' power play to finally connect. Ales Kotalik's low, one-timed slap shot eluded goaltender Brian Elliott just 89 seconds into the third period.
That was the Sabres' biggest highlight.
"We had so many opportunities," Kotalik said. "We still had a chance [after the goal]. It's very important to be able to capitalize. There's no excuse for the lack of execution we had."
Slapshots: Sabres' special teams have putrid showing as Senators win second straight over Buffalo. ... Ottawa scores two power-play goals, including one on its first shot. ... Kotalik scores on a five-on-three in third period.
Fast fact: Including playoffs, the Senators are 13-4-3 in HSBC Arena over the past four seasons.
Next: San Jose Sharks, 7:30 p.m. Friday in HSBC Arena.