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Sabres leave Long Island empty-handed Valuable points squandered in shutout

UNIONDALE-It's kind to say there are no easy games in the NHL. Anyone can beat anyone, the politically correct saying goes.

Throw those thoughts in the garbage. There's no way the New York Islanders should have beaten the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. Absolutely none.

Yet they did.

Sean Bergenheim scored twice, the Sabres didn't score all. The result was a frustrating 2-0 loss for Buffalo, which is just 3-5-2 in the past 10 games.

"Very frustrating. Very frustrating," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Every loss will be frustrating, in whatever fashion.

"They played better than we did. That's the bottom line. They made more plays. I thought their puck movement was better. They deserve a lot of credit."

The two teams couldn't be more different. The Sabres are shin guards deep in a playoff race. There are seven teams vying for five playoff spots, so the Sabres know slip-ups in the final 20 games of the season are unacceptable. They are also potentially lethal.

Enter the Islanders. They are not in the playoff race. The only race they are in involves junior star John Tavares, who figures to be the top pick in June's draft. New York is the front-runner in that. In other words, the Islanders are the worst team in the league.

They entered Saturday just 18-36-7. They had won only two of their previous 11 games. Their 43 points were seven back of 29th-place Atlanta.

The Islanders have long since written off their season, and further evidence came when the teams took the ice in Nassau Coliseum. Bill Guerin, the team's captain and top-scoring forward, was scratched as a trade appears imminent.

It should have been a cakewalk for the Sabres.

"If you look at the standings and the lineup, you think it would favor us, especially with how desperate that game was for us, with what we needed to do and where we were in the standings," Sabres forward Adam Mair said.

The loss, while damaging, didn't hurt the Sabres as much as it could have. Two teams near them in the standings, Carolina and Florida, also lost. Another two, Montreal and the New York Rangers, won. Buffalo remained in eighth place, tied with Carolina at 69 points with one fewer game played.

Obviously, a lack of offense was the key culprit Saturday. The Sabres were shut out for the fourth time this season and the second time in two weeks. Islanders goaltender Yann Danis stopped all 31 shots he faced.

"We didn't put the work in," Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said. "In the first period we tried to stay out a little too long. We had a couple of chances, didn't bury them. When they scored the first goal they started to just play [a] soft game, play simple. They just didn't give us anything. It was always four or five guys back.

"Sometimes we tried too hard, and sometimes way too casual."

The Sabres' power play had a glorious chance at the end of the second. Penalties to the Sabres' Derek Roy and New York's Jon Sim and Radek Martinek gave Buffalo a four-onthree for 1:29.

The Sabres put rifleman Ales Kotalik on the point and loaded the trigger. One blast rang the post with 42 seconds left, and another was tipped wide by Jason Pominville.

The lack of finish left Buffalo in a 1-0 deficit.

"The four-on-three, we had chances and we should bury them, go to the third period, 1-1, and it would be a different game," Spacek said.

Bergenheim opened the scoring midway through the second period, and he iced it with 2:02 remaining. He was the only one to beat Buffalo netminder Patrick Lalime, who finished with 32 saves.

Lalime has stopped 63 of 66 shots in the past two games while relieving the injured Ryan Miller, but has no wins to show for it.

"He played great for us the last two games," Spacek said, "and we just didn't help him."

The Sabres are off until Wednesday, when they host Montreal. The few days of practice are sure to be spent trying to find ways to put the puck in the net.

"Our puck movement wasn't near as crisp or near as accurate as it needed to be," Ruff said. "We can talk all we want about missed opportunities. It still wasn't good enough."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

***

Islanders 2

Sabres 0

Slapshots: Sabres suffer their worst defeat of season, losing to NHL's last-place team. ...Sabres shut out for fourth time this season.

...Afinogenov tells The News "no point for me to be here" if he's not going to play.

Fast fact: The Hurricanes were the final Eastern Conference team the Sabres had to visit.

Next game: vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in HSBC Arena.

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