Alex Ovechkin fired shot after shot, trying desperately to generate some offense for the Washington Capitals.
Despite eight shots on net and several other attempts that didn't make it, Ovechkin couldn't muster a goal and the Caps ended their season with a 2-0 loss to Buffalo at sold-out Verizon Center yesterday. It was probably a fitting ending for a team that will spend this offseason trying to find help for their two young Russian stars.
"I think next year will be different for us," said Ovechkin, who played more than 24 minutes and also doled out a game-high five hits. "I hope for next year we don't finish season that early."
Derek Roy got the Sabres on the board less than two minutes into the game with his 20th goal of the season. Maxim Afinogenov went around Caps defenseman Steve Eminger and his shot was stuffed by goaltender Olie Kolzig, but Roy was there to tap in the rebound.
Buffalo's Tim Connolly made it 2-0 midway through the period. He was trying to set up Daniel Paille, who was waiting near the crease to the left of the net, but the puck skipped off Boyd Gordon's stick and into the net.
That was more than enough for Sabres netminder Ryan Miller, whose 26 stops included a few dandies from point-blank range.
The Sabres have had plenty of injury troubles, but are close to full strength now. Connolly hadn't played in a game since May 8 because of concussion and knee problems, and Afinogenov recently returned after missing 21 games with a broken left wrist. The only regular still out is center Paul Gaustad, who is likely done for the season with a torn tendon in his left leg.
Buffalo already had wrapped up the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but with the win the Sabres clinched the President's Trophy, which is awarded to the team with the most points in the NHL, for the first time in franchise history. They will face either Montreal, Toronto or the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. The last team to win the President's Trophy and the Stanley Cup was Detroit in 2001-02.
"We want to continue to play our style of hockey. I am not a big fan of saying, 'You are on a roll,' " Miller said. "There's no such thing as a playoff switch. There's no such thing as 'another level' in the playoffs. We have to play the exact same way."
The loss ensures the Caps will finish in the bottom five of the league for the third straight season. Washington finished with the same number of points as last season (70), but the organization expects to take a step forward in 2007-08.
"We just finished playing 82 games and we have a goal winning the Stanley Cup and the first part of that making it to the playoffs," Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. "For us we have a lot of work ahead of us over the next three or four months before the season gets started to get us there."