BUFFALO — In less than 24 hours, the Sabres morphed from a postseason frontrunner to a likely bystander. Consecutive regulations losses can do that. An incredible nine-week run up the Eastern Conference possibly fell apart with one bad weekend.
Nonetheless, the ninth-place Sabres haven’t been eliminated yet. They still possess hope.
Three games remain, starting with tonight’s huge home finale against the hapless Maple Leafs, who downed them 4-3 on Saturday in Toronto.
The Sabres must win all three, right?
“I’d be stupid to think any other way,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Monday following practice inside the First Niagara Center.
The Sabres, who trail Washington by two points (88-86) with a game in hand, have little margin for error. It’ll be an arduous task securing their third straight playoff appearance.
While the Sabres can technically tie Washington tonight, the Capitals have the tiebreaker. Four more points and they clinch. They blew a glorious chance for at least one Monday, allowing the go-ahead goal with 1:02 left in a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Sabres owned eighth place and controlled their fate until the Pittsburgh Penguins beat them 5-3 on Friday.
“We kind of let it slip,” Sabres defenseman Mike Weber said. “Now we’re kind of hoping on other teams to mess up. We’ve got to take care of our business. It’s a big week of hockey.”
Goalie Ryan Miller said the Sabres’ awful start this season “looms over us.”
“The room for error was small. We made the error,” he said. “We got to make up for that and give us the best chance to get in the postseason here. That’s win (tonight) and go from there.”
It won’t get any easier. The Sabres finish with road tilts against the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, two conference heavyweights.