ADVERTISEMENT

As the Sabres stood around and watched the Montreal Canadiens dominate, it became clear Buffalo’s players had finally realized this season was over.

“It’s sure what it looked like, didn’t it?” defenseman Tyler Myers said Thursday after a 5-1 fiasco. “It was the worst effort the Buffalo Sabres have put on the ice since I’ve been a part of it.”

The Sabres’ standings-crushing loss in Winnipeg on Tuesday made it nearly impossible for them to reach the playoffs, and they played like it against the Habs.

“It was a terrible game by us,” center Cody Hodgson said. “It’s not one person. It’s the team collectively that needs to improve.”

The question after Thursday’s lack of effort is whether they have it in them for the final seven games. Exhibit A will be presented Saturday during a matinee against Philadelphia in First Niagara Center.

“It’s just unacceptable,” rookie Brian Flynn said. “Guys need to take a look in the mirror, show up and get back to work. It’s what being professional is. You’ve got to expect to compete and bring everything you have every night. It just wasn’t there.”

Though a four-goal margin of victory usually speaks volumes, it failed to reflect the wide chasm that separated the teams. Montreal outshot the Sabres, 42-15. The Canadiens, already holding a 2-0 lead, began the second period with 11-1 shot run in the opening 6:23, and they took 14 of the opening 16.

“We got our butts kicked,” said goaltender Ryan Miller, who stopped 28 of 32 shots through 40 minutes and mercifully was pulled for the final 20. “I was just trying to keep it close, wait for us to snap out of it. It didn’t quite come around.”

The line of Hodgson and wingers Thomas Vanek and Marcus Foligno was on the ice for both Montreal goals in the opening period, setting the tone for a long night for Buffalo’s marquee players.

“We didn’t have enough effort,” interim coach Ron Rolston said. “We didn’t have enough players going. We had too many passengers.

“We only had a couple guys, and they were some of our younger guys out there making plays. Again, we go back to your best players better be your best players. If they’re not, you have no chance of winning the hockey game.”

Montreal skated like a postseason position was on the line. It was. The Habs officially clinched a playoff spot and moved into first place in the Northeast Division. The Sabres are in last.

“We flat-out got outworked,” Myers said. “That’s probably the most embarrassing game I’ve been a part of since I’ve been here.

“It just comes down to mental preparation before the game. They wanted it more. That’s why they’re in the position they are now, and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in.”

As expected with a guaranteed playoff spot at stake, Montreal came out aggressively. The Habs controlled most of the first period while building their 2-0 lead. Montreal has outscored opponents, 37-16, during first periods and entered the night 14-3-1 when leading after one.

It went to 15-3-1 after the Habs dominated the second period, too. They scored two more times, and the Sabres were booed to the dressing room at intermission in a 4-0 hole. Thankfully for them, more than half the crowd of 19,070 consisted of Canadiens fans, which curtailed the noise level.

The building had begun to empty by the time the third period rolled around. Flynn gave the Buffalo backers who stayed a reason to cheer by scoring short-handed with 13:15 left. Chants of “Ole, ole, ole” rang through the nearly empty building when Montreal’s P.K. Subban scored on the power play with 2:41 to go.

“That,” Hodgson said, “was an embarrassing loss.”

email: jvogl@buffnews.com