The Sabres couldn't do much of anything. Their power play was abysmal. Their goaltending was inconsistent. Their offense was non-existent. Their energy and effort were even harder to find.
Yet, despite all the negatives, they were only four minutes from a victory Saturday night.
Things then went from bad to worse. Their discipline and defense disappeared, too, and Florida scored twice in the final 3:58 to send the Sabres to a maddening 3-2 loss.
The fans in First Niagara Center were mad, booing the team off the ice. The players were mad, closing their door for a meeting. The coach was mad, sending the game to the discard pile.
"Unacceptable," Lindy Ruff said. "Unacceptable from a discipline standpoint, from a play standpoint. You can package that whole game and put it in the unacceptable category."
The downfall started when Nathan Gerbe headed to the penalty box with 5:19 to go on a questionable tripping call. The forward glided toward the nearest referee for a quick conversation, and the official tacked on an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"I laughed," Gerbe said. "He said, 'Don't laugh at me.' I guess you can't laugh or smile about bad penalties."
A Florida player was already in the penalty box for a five-minute boarding major, and the Panthers took advantage of the four-on-four as Tomas Fleischmann tied the game with 3:58 left. Tomas Kopecky fanned on a shot to Ryan Miller's left, then passed to Fleischmann behind the net at the opposite side. He got to the front before the Sabres could.
Jason Garrison scored the winner with just 1:43 to go. The defenseman wound up from the center of the Buffalo zone on the power play, and his shot soared over Miller. The goaltender quickly looked at Derek Roy, who redirected the shot.
"I just couldn't really catch up to that one," Miller said, "but those are the bounces that happen when you put yourself in that kind of position. We did it to ourselves."
The added penalty and resulting goals were the final insults in a game filled with them.
"That falls into the discipline part, just knowing the time of the game and knowing we're up by a goal," captain Jason Pominville said. "I'm sure he would like to have the play back, but those are things that happen and we have to deal with it. I don't think we dealt with it the right way."
The frantic final 10 minutes made the sellout crowd of 18,690 forget about the malaise that constituted the first 50. With neither team attacking much, if at all, the initial goal was going to come on a mistake. Miller made it.
Panthers forward Marcel Goc circled with the puck near the Buffalo goal line midway through the second period. After his pirouette, Goc slid a slow backhand shot toward the net from a bad angle. Miller went low and tried to stop the puck with his stick. He whiffed.
The crowd groaned as Ruff cast his eyes toward the scoreboard to see the replay.
"Too many mistakes, myself included. The first goal was a big mistake," Miller said. "We're all accountable here, and we've all got to wake up."
The building, which had its share of patrons dressed in Halloween outfits, fell ghostly quiet -- until the boos started. The Sabres' passing was off for the second straight game, particularly during ineffective power plays.
Ruff juggled line after line in an attempt to spark the Sabres, with Ville Leino getting just five minutes of ice time during the final two periods. The only trio Ruff didn't tweak -- center Luke Adam between Pominville and left wing Thomas Vanek -- finally gave the Sabres and their fans a treat.
Vanek did nearly all the work in his scoring his eighth goal of the season. He skated past former teammate Brian Campbell down the right side of the Panthers' zone, then got goaltender Jose Theodore down at the post. Instead of shooting, Vanek sped around the net and dumped in the puck.
The Sabres' power play woke up just in time to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. Brad Boyes, while sliding on his knees, found Pominville with a cross-ice pass. The captain sneaked a shot between Theodore and the near post with 7:07 to play.
The sellout crowd didn't get a chance to celebrate again.
"From the get-go we didn't play good hockey," Vanek said. "It's not good. Losing is no fun, but there's nights you play well and lose; at least you tried. This one was, from start to finish, ugly."