Off they went to the First Niagara Center exits. Just 2:45 remained in regulation of the Sabres’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. But hundreds of fans, maybe even thousands, had already endured enough.
The Sabres had teased them once more. The frustration overwhelmed their frustrated supporters.
It didn’t matter the Sabres only trailed a goal. The team, so vile at home this year, imploded again Wednesday, blowing its early 3-0 lead.
The meltdown began seconds after Thomas Vanek’s power-play score 19:37 into the first period. Nathan Gerbe gave the puck away, and Maxime Talbot quickly converted, scoring with one second left in the period.
The gaffe turned out to be a harbinger, as the Flyers capitalized on mistake after mistake.
They tied it 14:45 into the second period, and then went up 4-3 on Jaromir Jagr’s tally at 17:18.
The capacity crowd of 18,690 fans booed the Sabres off the ice when the horn mercifully ended the period.
“What killed us is what we did with the puck,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “Our puck management wasn’t good. It cost us probably four goals on the night.”
It wasn’t the Sabres’ night, right? No way. But the Sabres tormented the crowd one more time, tying it with 1:35 left on Drew Stafford’s first tally in 14 games. The fans that had made their way outside were out of luck.
They didn’t miss much more, though, only one final mistake – the game’s most glaring.
In overtime, Marc-Andre Gragnani, stationed at the left boards in the Philadelphia zone, threw the puck up the middle of the ice. Claude Giroux intercepted, roared in on Ryan Miller alone and beat the goalie between the pads. The goal capped Giroux’s four-point night and was his NHL-leading 36th.
“I tried to make a play,” Gragnani said curtly. “They got it and they scored.”