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Hold off on planning Cup parade

Patrick Kaleta wasted no time Friday night proving he's capable of dropping more than F-bombs. Our lovable local favorite dropped alternating overhand and uppercut bombs with his left hand on Zack Smith a few minutes into the game before dropping the Ottawa rookie to his knees in a heap.

In what is becoming his post-scrap custom at home, the winger waved his arms on his way to the penalty box in a plea to his neighbors to bring more energy and raise the roof in HSBC Arena. Kaleta should have made an about face and summoned for more from the players sitting on his own bench.

"It gives you that extra ounce of energy, that extra boost, and the fans are cheering and the atmosphere picks up. Then, we're ready to go," Kaleta said. "We played pretty well in certain areas, but we could have played a little bit better, a little more fearless and with a little more determination. That fight was trying to get something going."

It clearly wasn't enough, but at least Katela gave it a whirl.

The Sabres had an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth Friday night, a formality that will take place with a victory tonight over Tampa Bay or at some point soon. They're almost certain to win the division. They have the best goaltender in the league in Ryan Miller. But is anybody really convinced a contending team is in our midst?

Uh, no.

And that has been the issue of late, even when the Sabres rattled off four straight victories to get into position to wrap up a playoff spot. They have a good team, but they're not scaring anyone with their mediocre play over the past two months. The Senators certainly aren't worried about them, not after a 4-2 victory for their ninth straight win over the Sabres.

The Sabres had an opportunity to lock up the playoffs against a team that has given them problems, but they treated much of the game like some Tuesday game against Columbus in November.

Here's a disturbing stat: since Feb. 1, the Sabres have one regulation victory over a team currently in the playoffs. It was against a San Jose team that was finishing off a road trip and was running for the bus before the Olympics. Otherwise, it has been a string of mostly mediocre play, good fortune and poor opponents.

The problem Friday night wasn't effort alone. It also was execution. They fired 43 shots at Sens goalie Brian Elliott, but most came from the outside until the third period. Jason Pominville made it interesting when he snapped home a wrister from the left circle early in the third period, but that was it.

Thomas Vanek could have tied the game midway through the third, but his slap shot from between the circles on a breakaway rang off the post. Tough luck. Elliott made several big saves for Ottawa. Buffalo dominated most of the final period but ultimately it wasn't enough against a division rival that's behind them in the standings.

If there's a positive they can take from the game Friday, it's that the Senators' win pushed them three points ahead of Montreal for fifth place in the conference, decreasing the chances of Buffalo meeting Ottawa in the first round.

If Buffalo is going to be taken seriously in the postseason, it must figure out a way to get through teams like Ottawa. The Sabres have tried passing it off as just one of those strange things in sports. Sorry, but nine straight losses to the same team over two seasons can't be dismissed as some crazy fluke.

The Sabres can look at their record through 73 games and be satisfied, but they're kidding themselves if they think they can make any noise in the postseason in their current state.

"It's not a fluke. Very rarely is it a fluke," Paul Gaustad said. "It's us committing 60 minutes against these guys. We can't be scared. We have to go after them. They paid attention to details, and we didn't. Enough is enough. We have to beat teams like this to get past any round in the playoffs. We have to be better, and we have to prove it."

Lindy Ruff knows darned well the jury is still out on his team, and deep down he has questions of his own about them. Ruff suggested Friday morning that they can beat anybody in the East when they play their game, but he's not really sure. In fact, anybody predicting how the Sabres' will respond in the postseason is merely taking a guess based on old evidence.

The truth is it comes down to how they play over three periods. They played 58 listless minutes against the Canadiens and pulled out a victory. They've slept through the first period a few times and won. They didn't play well for the first two periods Friday, and they paid a price with a playoff berth waiting.

In the end, they failed to put up a strong enough fight.

"We've had enough lessons here over the last month," winger Mike Grier said. "Hopefully, it will start to sink in. We've got two weeks left in the season, and they're an example of what you have to do to win games. You've got to work hard and do all the little things. We didn't do enough of that."


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