By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO - The Buffalo Sabres came into Friday night's game against the New York Rangers with barely flickering playoff hopes.
By the start of the second period, those hopes were snuffed out.
The Sabres gave up five goals within a span of just under three minutes and ultimately fell to the Rangers, 8-4, at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo. The loss ensures the Sabres will miss the playoffs for the second straight year and the fourth time in six seasons.
"It's hard to put into words, especially with the guys we had," said Sabres forward Drew Stafford of the team's frustration and disappointment. "We were playing well. It looked like we were going to have a hard game but then before you know it we were down 3-0."
New York broke the scoreless tie at the 18:42 mark of the first period when Carl Hagelin took the puck and skated out from behind the Buffalo net. Trying to find teammate Ryan Callahan for the pass, the puck instead banked off the leg of Sabres defenseman Adam Pardy and past goalie Ryan Miller.
Just under a minute later, the Rangers' Brad Richards held the puck outside the face-off circle to the left of Miller, hesitated, then put the puck toward the Buffalo net. Again, the puck struck a Buffalo player, this time Christian Ehrhoff, and again beat Miller on the redirection.
New York wasn't done. With just four seconds remaining in the period, Miller attempted a clearing pass but whiffed on the puck, allowing Ryan Clowe to take it and beat Miller on a backhand shot.
Just 1:13 into the second period, the Rangers struck again as Anton Stralman lifted the visitors to a 4-0 lead and ended Miller's evening. Jhonas Enroth replaced him to loud cheers by the fans but in short time it was clear he would have an equally rough night, surrendering Richards' second goal on his first shot, just 27 seconds after taking over for Miller.
Following Rick Nash's goal to put the Rangers ahead 6-0, Buffalo actually came alive and even teased the fans with the thought of a miracle comeback. At the 13:50 mark of the second, while on a power play, Cody Hodgson tipped Christian Ehrhoff's shot from the point into the net and put the Sabres on the scoreboard. Just six seconds later, Nathan Gerbe stole an errant Ranger pass in their own zone and lifted the puck over Ranger netminder Henrik Lundqvist's catching glove.
The Rangers stopped Buffalo's momentum somewhat when Ryan Callahan broke in on Enroth and beat him at the 14:28 mark of the period to life New York ahead, 7-2.
"Our last couple of games, we said it's the playoffs for us and we have to win to make it in," said Callahan after the game. "We know it's in our control and it's tough building to play in so we wanted to come out hard and make sure we got that first goal and we did."
Buffalo mustered another goal late in the second period as Stafford got the puck off the face-off and lifted a backhand shot over Lundqvist.
Buffalo couldn't inch any closer, even with two power play opportunities in the third period. Then at the 12:32 mark, Richards' wrist shot redirected off the tip of Enroth's glove and went into the net, completing the Ranger forward's hat trick.
Mark Pystyk scored on a Buffalo power ply with just under 40 seconds remaining, but his first career NHL goal only momentarily got Sabres fans smiling again.
In the dressing room, following the game, players could only look back on the game that ended their playoff hopes and reflect on a season full of disappointments.
"It hasn't been easy," said forward Thomas Vanek. "But we worked hard and traded a couple of players away. We've stuck with it and lost some games we should have won. Collectively, we weren't good enough."
The Sabres have three games remaining. They were originally set to leave Buffalo for Pittsburgh immediately following Friday night's game. Their game with the Penguins, originally scheduled for tonight, has been moved to Tuesday as part of a schedule reshuffling made necessary by the search for the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect Friday. That search put the entire city of Boston into lockdown most of Friday and led the NHL to move its Friday evening Bruins-Penguins to this afternoon.Follow Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter @MrozGazette