Sabres driven to distraction

Sabres defenceman Brian Campbell looks dejected after being called for goaltender interference on...

Sabres defenceman Brian Campbell looks dejected after being called for goaltender interference on Senators goalie Ray Emery on Monday. (Sun Media/Sean Kilpatrick)

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Ales Kotalik sat in his stall last night in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room, the season draining out around him.

The Sabres forward shook his head.

"They play fast hockey," he said in a low voice.

"Fast ... good, quick. They are tough to handle. All year long we had trouble with them, but we knew they would play like that. So far, they're the better team than us, but we have to regroup and not hang our heads."

The Sabres left the ice a frustrated bunch last night, now down 3-0 to the Senators in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final and, barring a resurrection that has occurred just twice in the history of the NHL, one more loss away from seeing what had been a wonderful season snuffed out.

Sound familiar?

It is not a pretty place.

"It's definitely a pretty big hole to be in," said Kotalik. "They keep holding us back. They only gave us 12 or 15 shots again.

"They play it tight and definitely didn't give us much, not enough to create pressure to turn the game."

RUFF AND GRUFF

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was tight and gruff at his morning press conference yesterday, snapping at a reporter who asked the obligatory question about lineup changes.

Tight would also describe the way his hockey team has played in this series, especially on the power play.

The Sabres were 0-for-6 last night and now are 0-for-18 in this series.

One of the reasons last night was the Senators' dominance in the faceoff circle, another example of how the Senators have won the little games within the games against the Sabres.

Senators centre Dean McAmmond was 5-1 on faceoffs, helping Ottawa dominate with its penalty killing.

When a team is winning draws short-handed, it can mean up to 25 seconds of the power play killed.

"I was tired of losing," said McAmmond by way of explanation.

The Sabres have been -- and were again last night --outplayed when it came to managing the puck.

One stark difference that has emerged through the first three games of this series is the imbalance between the two teams when it comes to turnovers.

It would be easy to blame the tight Sabres for their poor puck management -- particularly their defencemen -- but the Senators must get their share of the credit.

The have done a magnificent job of reading and reacting, knowing when to step up and when to retreat.

In the second period, the Senators' fourth line was on the ice with defencemen Wade Redden and Andrej Meszaros.

A Sabres defenceman had the puck behind the Buffalo net and McAmmond stepped up and forced him to move it.

He let go a hasty chip to winger Maxim Afinogenov on the right-wing boards. Redden, sensing Afinogenov would take a moment to settle the floating pass, jumped down the boards and thwarted Afinogenov's attempt to get the puck out of the zone.

TURNOVER TROUBLES

That's the way to do it, challenging when there is a reasonable chance of at least creating a battle for the puck, if not win it outright.

Through three games, the Sabres turned over the puck twice as often as the Senators, 44-20.

The Senators turned over the puck just three times last night.

"They're a great offensive hockey team. If you don't turn the puck over in places they can't attack you," said McAmmond. "You're doing yourself a big favour."

You can't take care of the puck much better than that and that is a big reason why the Senators are just one win from their first final.

ALFIE OUTSTANDING

The Sabres have no player who has come close to playing at the level of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was a terror at both ends of the ice last night, scoring the only goal of the game and playing a huge role in preventing one at the Senators end.

Alfredsson denied Buffalo's Derek Roy on a wraparound attempt with Senators goaltender Ray Emery scrambling to get to the post.

The Sabres have nothing now but a small bit of hope and a few words that players in these situations must cling.

"We're not saying it's impossible," said Kotalik. "It starts with one shift."

That's all that's left for the Sabres to believe.


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