BUFFALO – With senior advisor Ken Sawyer watching from the stands, a rarity, the Sabres practiced quietly this morning for the first time since Friday’s ugly 8-4 loss to the New York Rangers eliminated them from playoff contention.
Normally, their shootout drills are filled with cheering and hollering as they close sessions. Today, however, almost no one uttered a word.
Three games remain, starting with Monday’s home tilt against the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets, who trail the Rangers by one point for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
“Our mentality has to be the same,” Sabres winger Steve Ott said inside the First Niagara Center. “We have to play with a lot of pride. … Now it’s playing for pride and playing for the passion of the Buffalo Sabres organization.”
Ott, a playoff bystander five straight years going back to his Dallas tenure, is having a tough time handling the elimination.
“It (stinks),” he said. “You play this sport to get in the playoffs to get a chance at the Stanley Cup. You know what it is? It’s that old cliché of being bigger, faster, stronger, and you got a lot of time now to make sure that you start changing your ways and prepping for the future.”
Ott would love to spoil the Jets’ playoff hopes.
“Winnipeg’s a team, I guess you can say jealousy breeds a little bit of frustration, and if they have a chance at this, we can possibly knock them off tomorrow and feel the same way that we feel,” Ott said. “Personally and pride way, I would like to do that to another team so they have the same feeling.”
Interim Sabres coach Ron Rolston added: “We talked about guys were dying to play games when the lockout was on, everyone was dying to play hockey, and now they still have hockey to play. There’s three games, and they still have to be excited about it. I know there’s not playoff in the picture, but there’s opportunity for guys, and there’s games.”
In other news, Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta, who left Friday’s game after a shot hit his hand, is out Monday, Rolston said.
That means 18-year-old rookie Mikhail Grigorenko will play his first game since March 12.
Is the Russian center a better player after going back to junior?
“We’re going to see these next three games with Mikhail,” Rolston said. “He’s got skill. You watch him out there, he’s got big skill.”
Rolston said goalies Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth will play this week. It seems unlikely Miller, who was unhappy with the fans’ ire before getting yanked Friday, would start at home again.