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Sabres feel the wrath of Ruff; Coach left angry by season's end

Aside from the light, whispery hum of a cooling unit overhead, it was stone quiet in the arena Friday while Lindy Ruff gathered the Sabres before him. The start of the season's final practice was at a standstill as the coach emphatically made clear to the players how angry and disappointed he was in both them and their predicament.

The chat -- no, make that a monologue -- lasted up to 10 minutes. No one made a peep and few even moved a muscle as Ruff bounced his stick up and down, left and right, his chin defiantly thrust in the air as he told the eliminated Sabres they failed to come through when it mattered.

After putting the Sabres through an hourlong practice, their longest in weeks if not months, Ruff summoned the players to the blue line again. They took a knee and stared up at Ruff, another extended tongue lashing on tap. The coach ended the long lesson brusquely and skated away to fire a puck off the goal post. The players stayed on one knee to digest the message, complete with the realization there wasn't much reason to climb to their skates.

Ultimately, the message was that losing isn't fun or acceptable.

"Damn right that was my message," an angry Ruff said in the bowels of Agganis Arena at Boston University. "Today's not a good day. You can't like losing. You can't like getting close and losing. You can't like leading after two periods and losing the game. And you can't like losing it the way we did."

The sting of Thursday's 2-1 loss to Philadelphia still stung bitterly for Ruff. The setback was the formal elimination of the Sabres' postseason hopes, a loss that made today's season finale in Boston meaningless. The way they Sabres' Stanley Cup dream ended -- the Sabres scored just once and defenseman Robyn Regehr whiffed on the Flyers' Matt Read to set up the winning breakaway goal with 4:21 to play -- gnawed at the coach.

"The play that lost us the game is a play that can't be made," Ruff said. "It can't be made. You can't accept that. You can't accept that. You can't like it.

"You can sit on the injury factor, but you've got to get by that. I thought our young players played well. I thought some of our veteran players didn't get the job done in Philly for us.

"Don't ever like losing. Don't ever like making the mistakes you made. The chance to make a difference and you didn't make a difference. You get an opportunity. You're paid to either score goals or prevent them if you're a defender. We had two-on-ones we didn't score. We had a two-on-one we went offside. That's unacceptable. It's game-on time. It's difference time. We've talked about this for a good period of time. We've had guys push through and make a difference. In the biggest game, we weren't able to push through."

It's somewhat surprising the Sabres were able to push through the long practice. It was easy to tell their minds were cluttered by all that went wrong and the sudden end of the season, but they skated for the full 60-plus minutes.

"It's a tough day," said left wing Thomas Vanek, his eyes moistening and going vacant. "This is what you work toward all summer. From last year to the day you lose out, you wait till next year to get a chance. It's tough."

The on-ice chatter and dressing room revelry that had accompanied the Sabres during their two-month charge to playoff contention disappeared along with their chance to win the Cup.

"Nobody wants to lose," captain Jason Pominville said. "It's not fun. The mood isn't fun. Everybody's grumpy. It changed from a couple days ago where everybody was in a great mood because we still had a chance. Now it's just not good enough."

The loss to the Flyers was the finishing blow for Buffalo, but it was set up by a flurry of jabs. The Sabres had time to reflect on the injurious moments during the flight from Philly to Boston, their restless night and their pointless skate.

"You get to today and you look back," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "We've haven't been looking back in two months. Now we look back and find where our mistakes and our faults were.

"Yeah, everybody thinks it comes down to one game. Realistically, it comes down to the entire season. This season, we could have gained points in a lot of different places. We just needed to be better throughout the extended period of time.

"We had a couple games where we lost points on last-minute goals, last-second goals. You look at our road play, and our road play wasn't real great. The 12-game losing streak on the road, that was a real frustrating part of the year. You look to get some points during that and look to break that streak. It was definitely a low of the year. If we didn't have that, we'd probably be in the playoffs right now."

Instead, they'll merely play out the string against the Bruins and get ready to pack up for a long summer.

"We didn't get it done," Vanek said. "That's pretty much the overall message. That sums it up. That's what it is. We fought our way back. We had it in our hands there, and we let it slip away."