BUFFALO, N.Y. -- So many times, this is what has separated the Flyers from others in tight games during this lockout-shortened season.
Christian Ehrhoff deliberately shoots off the back boards. The puck caroms off goalie Steve Mason’s skate into the net.
Later, with one second to play and the Flyers desperate to tie it, Danny Briere fires from the circle. It’s deflected off the crossbar as the buzzer sounds.
And with that, the Flyers lose 1-0 to the Sabres -- the first time they’ve lost four games in succession during regulation play all season.
“It deflected off something, I have no clue,” said Briere, who returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a concussion. “Then right off the crossbar. Just the way things are going these days around here.
“We had chances we didn’t capitalize on. We didn’t do enough in the offensive zone anyway to deserve to win.”
Saturday’s afternoon matinee at the First Niagara Center dimmed the lights lower on the Flyers' playoff chances. Peter Laviolette's club is now nine points back of the eighth-place Rangers and over the four losses, the Flyers have scored just three goals.
“It’s frustrating for everybody,” Scott Hartnell said. “We’re not scoring goals, and you need goals to win hockey games. It’s frustrating. I don’t know what to say. It’s not like we’re not trying. I don’t know what it is.”
They talked on Friday about getting more shots at the net with traffic and rebounds. Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth hardly faced any rebounds, though Wayne Simmonds shot one wide in the final 38 seconds.
“At the end, we had a couple chances and we’re always hitting [Enroth] in the chest or not getting good wood on it,” Hartnell said. “It’s not just the last few games; it’s almost been like that the whole year.
“It seems like we haven’t gotten any of those bounces or breaks. But Danny has that shot at a different time or a different game, that goes in.”
Once a genuine threat to get at least a point in hostile arenas, the Flyers have the worst road record in the Eastern Conference at 5-15-1.
The most interesting aspect here concerned the right-handed Mason, who made his second start in goal in three games. He was very sharp with 20 saves. Mason stood out in the second period with nine saves as the 11th-seeded Sabres –- one spot above the Flyers in the standings -- ratcheted up their chances.
In two-plus games (20 minutes in one) as a Flyer, Mason has a 1.74 goals against average and .934 save percentage.
“He played well,” Laviolette said. “Especially in the second period. There were a couple breakdowns and odd-man rushes that came his way. He did a real nice job.”
First, Mason made a sliding post-to-post left-pad stop on Drew Stafford off a 2-on-1 Sabres rush. A few minutes later, he denied Cody Hodgson on a 2-on-2. Finally, he swatted away Thomas Vanek’s shot in the slot with his glove.
“That was the type of game where there wasn’t a ton of shots but the shots they were able to generate were quality scoring chances,” Mason said. “That’s the kind of game that is tough on the goaltender but also a challenge for myself to step up and make timely saves.”
Three quality saves from Mason kept it scoreless through 40 minutes, essentially giving the goal-starved Flyers a chance.
Incredibly, the Flyers scored 18 goals during their four-game win streak that preceded this losing spell.
“It’s been a weird year,” Hartnell said. “I can only talk for myself. It’s not like the chances haven’t been there. It’s missing the shots or missing the net. To score goals, you have to go hard edge, get in front of the net and try to make more of an emphasis in front of the net.”
Buffalo’s game-winner came 17 seconds into the third period. Mason said it was a set play.
“The boards were lively and you know it's almost like a set play for them,” Mason said. “It's just a real frustrating way to lose the game. I was pushing back and Reeser [goalie coach Jeff Reese] said it bounced up and hit my skate and went back into the net.
“The boards here are similar to what Detroit has -- lively boards and they can have set plays. We were right there and guys were pressuring them when we had the empty net.
“Danny hit the crossbar there with like a second left and we [just weren't] able to capitalize. This was a tough loss.”
A few minutes later, Simon Gagne nearly tied it with a tricky backhander that Enroth trapped at the post.
“We got a lot of good chances and were unable to put them in,” Laviolette said.
Absolutely nothing of major consequence occurred in the opening period other than Flyers rookie defenseman Oliver Lauridsen getting a nasty NHL “hello” from one of all-time dirty players in Patrick Kaleta (see video).
Again, the Flyers' fading power play had something to do with the result. They had just one shot on three power plays and are now 0 for 16 over six games.
The Flyers briefly owned the NHL’s No. 1 power play from March 29 through April 2. From there, it’s been nothing but zeroes and a gradual fall to third overall in the league.
It wasn’t until the third period that Enroth actually had to make a save during a Flyers power play when he denied Jakub Voracek at the right post.
Meanwhile, Mason continues to impress as Ilya Bryzgalov’s backup.
“I really like his work,” Briere said of Mason. “He moves really well. Once again, he gave us a chance to win.
“There was an unfortunate bounce on him, but in the second period I think we gave up three or four 2-on-1s. That's trouble usually, and he was able to keep them all out.”
Only a fluke in the final period would find a way.
“That’s what we’re battling right now,” Laviolette said.