Even before they knew their Stanley Cup dreams were officially over, the Sabres were fully aware they'd created their own nightmare.
"It's frustrating," Drew Stafford said after Thursday's 2-1 loss to Philadelphia, the right winger unaware that Washington had just beaten Florida to mathematically eliminate Buffalo.
"It doesn't matter," he said after learning the fate had formally been sealed elsewhere. "We had to win this game, and we didn't get it done."
Stafford was one of nearly a dozen equipment-wearing Sabres suffering in the Wells Fargo Center dressing room well after the Flyers had squashed Buffalo's hopes for the second straight season. The players lamented their inability to hold a 1-0 third-period lead, their despair, disappointment and anger deepening when word of the Capitals' 4-2 victory filtered in.
"Uhhhhhh," center Tyler Ennis groaned while rubbing his hands over his face. "It's just devastating. We wanted the playoffs so bad, and it's a tough way to lose."
The Sabres were in position to make Saturday's season finale in Boston meaningful. They entered the final period with the lead, a position they'd found themselves in 27 times prior. With a 25-0-2 record, they'd never lost in regulation -- until a two-goal comeback by the Flyers.
There was no worse time for the first loss. Washington moved two points ahead and owns the tiebreaker of regulation and overtime wins, while the Panthers stayed four points up, allowing the teams to earn the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
"It's embarrassing to miss the playoffs," Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said.
"I agree," coach Lindy Ruff said. "I know we're a little short on the back end, but I agree."
The organization is getting accustomed to the embarrassment. The Sabres have missed the playoffs three times in five seasons and six in the past 10.
"This year not even making it brings back memories that you don't want to have," Stafford said. "It's never a good feeling."
"It's not a fun time right now," left wing Ville Leino said. "It's really disappointing right now to end the season so early."
Leino gave Buffalo its only goal with 2:34 to play in the second period, with the 19,873 orange-clad fans booing twice. The jeers and groans started when the red light flashed. They intensified when the former Flyers forward was announced as the goal-scorer.
A third-period rally made the fans forget all about it.
With the Flyers working the puck around the Sabres' zone, defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon blew a one-timer past Miller, evening the score at 1-all with 13:55 to go.
"We got a little scrambly on the first goal," said Miller, who stopped 33 of 35 shots. "I thought it hit somebody in front there, and they got a good break."
Matt Read followed by ruining a solid night by defenseman Robyn Regehr and putting the finishing touch on the Sabres' hopes. Read got around Regehr at the Buffalo blue line, giving himself a clear path to Miller. Skating from left to right, Read -- stymied by Miller on a short-handed breakaway in the first period -- waited for Miller to move across and put a shot under the goalie's glove to stun the Sabres.
"What it came to was that play in the neutral zone," Regehr said. "I thought I could be a little more aggressive, saw a puck that was being flipped out. I have to win that one-on-one. I end up getting beat and cost us the hockey game. That was the difference."
Said Miller: "I poke-checked him earlier. I thought he'd wait me out. I just tried to go with him. I really thought he was going to go higher with that shot. He just put it underneath. I don't know if he was trying to do it or what, but if he was it was a really nice shot. If not, good for him.
"It just comes down to Robyn probably wants to play that better and I want to make a save for the guys. There's two of us at the end of the night where it gets magnified, and we both had to make a better play."
The Sabres' inability to beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov more than once contributed to the Liberty Bell toiling for them once again. Last season ended with a first-round playoff loss in Philadelphia.
"We didn't finish what you call your skill chances," Ruff said. "Some of them we didn't get shots. A couple of them we missed the net. The goalie made a good save on [Marcus] Foligno, but too many good chances by the wayside."
And now, it's another season by the wayside. A season that started with unbridled excitement will end with a meaningless matinee in Boston.
"We had our chances," Stafford said. "That makes it a little more disappointing, the fact that we had it in our hands and didn't get it done."