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Sabres' season vanishes in a night of misery

There was nothing the Buffalo Sabres could do but slump on the bench, each face drained of hope. Revelry all around them midway through the third period, their looks alternated between blank stares and obvious disappointment. They could merely hope time would speed up, put an end to their misery.

Instead, the final minutes dragged on, the Philadelphia fans loudly serenading the Sabres, sending them into the offseason with, "Hey, hey, goodbye."

The Sabres' season concluded in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, the Flyers rolling to an easy 5-2 victory. It was an anticlimactic finish to a tremendous series, the Game Seven blowout resembling the intense opening six games in no way whatsoever.

And the Sabres had to wait for it to end.

"It's not a good a feeling to have to chase the final few minutes of your season," defenseman Chris Butler said. "It's disappointing to know that we had a good chance to win this series, and to be where we are now just sucks."

The end couldn't come fast enough because everything was over in a hurry. The Flyers rolled the Sabres the second the teams stepped onto the ice. The Atlantic Division champions finally showed their talent edge over the seventh-seeded Sabres, with the 19,929 orange-clad fans turning Wells Fargo Center into a den of joy for the Flyers and a house of pain for the Sabres.

"It's tough to go out, especially when it's 5-2," Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers said. "You've got to give them credit. They had a hell of a game. They got us down early, and we just couldn't recover."

The first period was easily the Sabres' worst of the season, not just the playoffs. They couldn't connect on short passes, their blue-line pinches didn't work, they repeatedly turned over the puck deep in their own zone and they managed just two shots.

"They kind of took it to us early," Butler said. "Not the best start for us, and I think they gained momentum and they really settled into their game early whereas it took us awhile to adjust. By then, it was too late."

The Sabres just ran out of energy. They spent four months climbing the standings to get to the playoffs. They competed during every minute of the first six games, with each team winning three times.

With players such as Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville out, and Derek Roy and Jochen Hecht playing their first games after long injury-induced absences, the Sabres just couldn't keep up with the third-best team in the NHL.

"Part of it was a lack of experience in a situation like that," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Part of it was how hard they came out. Our chance was in Game Six. We had it, and we didn't take advantage of some of the situations that could've put a team away like they put us away."

The Sabres' dressing room was full of signs it was over. Mike Grier, still in full uniform, sat alone in the corner, hands covering his welling eyes. Tyler Ennis leaned back against the bench, staring at nothing.

"It's probably the worst feeling ever," Ennis said. "You want to win so bad. You hate these guys so much, and you just want to win. It sucks."

Despite their long list of early shortcomings, the Sabres were seconds away from getting out of the first period with a scoreless tie. It would've been an impressive feat, but the Flyers finally parlayed their dominance into a 1-0 lead.

During the third faceoff to goaltender Ryan Miller's left in a seven-second span, the fans began booing when Claude Giroux got booted from the draw. Danny Briere stepped in and cleanly beat Paul Gaustad, drawing the puck to defenseman Braydon Coburn.

The blue-liner moved to his left and shot, with Grier attempting to catch it. The puck glanced his glove and kept going, right through the legs of Miller with 18.5 seconds left.

As the sea of orange erupted, Briere skated behind Miller and tapped the goaltender in the back of the head before joining his jubilant teammates.

The Flyers increased their lead to 3-0 midway through the second, scoring again on the power play.

The Philly fans, who jeered their own goalies several times during the series, finally had a chance to taunt Miller. They let out mock cheers when he stopped easy dump-ins. They repeatedly chanted, "Mill-er, Mill-er," getting their loudest when he was pulled for Jhonas Enroth early in the third period, the Sabres in a 4-0 hole.

Myers and Brad Boyes prevented the Flyers and goalie Brian Boucher from getting their first shutout of the season.

The Sabres couldn't prevent Philly from heading to the second round, however, and they couldn't stop the time from running out on their season.

Said Ennis: "It's a horrible feeling seeing the time run out."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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