BUFFALO — “The main thing is start talking about it and just put it out there that we want to win a championship. We want to do it the right way, and we just have to hit a few checkpoints along the way and set ourselves up for it.” – Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, September 16, 2011
Nearly seven months after his upbeat chat as training camp opened, Miller and the Sabres will clean out their lockers today inside the First Niagara Center, officially ending a bitterly disappointing season in which a team built to win the Stanley Cup missed the playoffs.
The checkpoints, the seminal moments of 2011-12 – Milan Lucic’s season-altering hit on Miller and the Sabres’ tepid response, an annihilation in Detroit during a 12-game road losing streak, their fall into the Eastern Conference cellar Feb. 17 and others – doomed the high-priced, underachieving club.
Here’s some of what went wrong and contributed to the Sabres finishing ninth and missing the playoffs for the sixth time 10 seasons:
They never fully recovered from Lucic’s Nov. 12 thump
It was about seven minutes into their 16th contest when Lucic blocked Thomas Vanek’s shot and began a jaunt toward Miller that dramatically altered the campaign.
The Sabres began the day atop the Northeast Division and fifth in the Eastern Conference, a strong 10-5-0. They had just beaten a good Ottawa club 5-1 at home the previous night.
But in a few seconds, Lucic’s lick on Miller sent the Sabres spiraling into mediocrity.
The Bruins agitator obliterated the goalie as the two chased down a loose puck, knocking off his mask and concussing him in a wicked collision.
“They ought to clean his clock!” Sabres play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret roared from his perch above the TD Garden ice.
Instead, the Sabres barely pushed Lucic, letting him get away with hammering the franchise netminder.