The Sabres faltered late on Sunday, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, in their final game of the season. In a game that meant nothing for the two teams, aside from draft position, the result was a fitting end to an extremely disappointing season for the blue and gold.
One mildly inspiring aspect of what was otherwise a melancholy affair, was the performance of Linus Ullmark in his only start of the season. Ullmark stopped 33 of 36 shorts faced in his debut. It has been widely speculated that Ullmark could end up being a target of the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the upcoming expansion draft this spring, but after tonight, the organization would likely rather see him stay in the system.
The game started relatively sloppy for both sides, though Tampa Bay, was able to apply pressure in the Sabres zone. Ullmark held strong despite several scoring chances early on. On one of their meager seven shots on the period, William Carrier gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 13:56. The goal was Carrier’s fifth of the season. Top prospect Alex Nylander registered his first point at the NHL level with the primary assist.
As has been the case all season long, the Sabres faltered in the second period. After escaping the opening frame with a one goal lead, Buffalo managed just five shots on goal in period two. The Lightning however maintained the offensive pressure, and eventually broke through when Brayden Point tied the game at 5:59. The goal was Point’s 17th of the season, capping an impressive campaign for the former third round pick from the 2014 draft. Just as the Sabres’ league leading power-play unit took to the ice for their first opportunity of the evening, the Lightning took a 2-1 lead with a shorthanded goal at 12:20, courtesy of Braydon Coburn.
Buffalo turned on the gas in the third period against a Lightning team that seemed to feint interest in the meaningless contest. Though Andrei Vasilevskiy tried diligently to preserve the one goal lead, Evander Kane finally broke through at 11:17 with his 28th tally of the season (the second highest season total in his career). In the waning moments of a game that appeared to be headed to overtime, Brayden Point was able to sneak one past Ullmark for his second of the evening, putting a merciful end to a miserable season. With one second remaining on the clock, Victor Hedman potted his 16th on an empty net goal.
The Sabres have a great deal of work ahead of them in the offseason. At the end of the game Rob Ray told the fans to hang in there. That their suffering wouldn’t last for much longer. Even the most optimistic fans are skeptical. This was supposed to be a season of improvement, and the first campaign in many where a playoff push seemed possible. Dan Bylsma and an oft-injured roster failed to deliver on these expectations. Though it is entirely possible that Bylsma returns for a third season in western New York, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see the team relieve him of his duties before the draft.
It’s one thing to fall short of expectations, but to regress in the standings is simply unacceptable. The Sabres could very well pick in the top five this offseason. That result is entirely unacceptable. Tim Murray’s seat is heating up as well. The General manager has a great deal of work ahead of him in the coming months. His most glaring task is to correct the abysmal defensive corps that he has assembled. The only viable players on the blue line were inherited from the Regier regime. Murray has a lot to prove, and the team he fielded this season cannot be what Terry Pegula had in mind.
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