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As playoff race slips away, Sabres left with no answers on the ice or off it

NEWARK, N.J. -- Did you notice those pitchforks on the front of the New Jersey Devils' sweaters? You can just about stick them in the Buffalo Sabres' season.

Unless something wholly unexpected happens in the next few weeks, it's readily apparent this club isn't going to the playoffs for the eighth straight season.

Coach Phil Housley said Friday night his team played "soft" and no one in KeyBank Center would disagree. Called out by their coach after a putrid loss to the New York Rangers, the response the Sabres would offer was the overriding theme of Sunday's game in Prudential Center.

Well, the Sabres made it clear what they're made of.

Sunday's 4-1 loss to the Devils was hardly a disgraceful performance. The Sabres had a 35-24 advantage in shots on goal and had 21 more attempts. They had the puck a lot. They just didn't do enough with it. They didn't defend at key times either.

The Wraparound: New Jersey Devils 4, Buffalo Sabres 1

While the standings show the Sabres are six points out of a playoff spot with 24 games left, the reality paints a much harsher picture. It's widely known that it's two months and counting since the Sabres have won a measly two games in a row.

But get this: Since Jan. 1, the Sabres are 7-10-1 -- and tied with Ottawa for the fewest number of points in the Eastern Conference. Over that stretch, they're 22nd in the NHL in goals for (52) and 23rd in goals against (66).

That's an interesting playoff push.

"Are we toast?" winger Sam Reinhart said with a nervous laugh as he repeated a question. "That's one way you guys look at it but, no, we certainly feel we're right in the mix. ... It doesn't make it easier with other teams winning but no we don't feel we're toast at all. It doesn't take much to turn around. At the end of the day, we have to bear down, but yeah, we need to start putting up more points soon."

Housley wasn't much in the mood to come down on his team again and was already pointing to Tuesday's game at Florida, a team that has beaten the Sabres in seven of the last eight meetings.

"I believe in our group. I believe in these guys," Housley said. "They came back. They responded the right way. They were ready to play. It wasn't our night. I know that's disappointing but we've got a big game against Florida. We're still in this thing. We're still fighting and that's the way we're going to look at it."

Told he was playing for the East's worst team over the last six weeks, a steely-eyed Zach Bogosian tried to play questioner himself.

"We're confident in each other," the veteran defenseman said defiantly. "Are you?"

Asked what gave him the confidence any sort of turnaround is looming, Bogosian defended his teammates.

"Because of the guys we have in our room," he said. "I know the character we have in this room. That's what I believe in. I believe in every single guy in here."

As noted, the Sabres got some offensive push in this one. Reinhart, Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen and Evan Rodrigues all had at least four shots on goal. But there was not enough second and third chances and not enough traffic in front of the net.

The Sabres thus made a star out of woebegone New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider, who had snapped a 21-game winless streak that stretched for more than a year Friday night in Minnesota.

Schneider entered the game with hideous stats this season -- a 3.96 goals-against average and .873 save percentage. Against Buffalo, he stopped 34 of 35 shots to improve his career mark to 9-3-3 vs. the Sabres.

Jason Pominville hit a post on a first-period power play. In the second period, Eichel was stopped in tight and so was a Casey Mittelstadt backhand from close range. Johan Larsson had a good chance in the third period. No dice. That was about it.

"It didn't feel like we got enough to him," Reinhart said. "I looked up in the third and we did have quite a few shots. From what I gathered, there weren't enough second and third opportunities around him. We have to focus more on keeping it a little more simple and getting bodies to the net."

The Sabres headed for the airport to continue their road trip, but it feels like they're heading to nowhere other than warm weather. The time for General Manager Jason Botterill to do something to stem the tide seems gone, even though the trade deadline is just seven days away.

The Rangers and Devils -- who entered the game 29th overall -- were bottom-barrel clubs and Buffalo got no points. And after the Florida game, check out the schedule going forward.

It reads at Tampa Bay, Washington, at Toronto, at Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and at Toronto again.

In the immortal word of former NFL coach Jim Mora: Playoffs?

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