BUFFALO -- Back in the spring of 2001, the Bruins' epitaph read, ''Alas, we could not beat Atlanta."
That year, they missed the playoffs, essentially, because they had four tries to beat the lowly Thrashers and failed. Atlanta finished a dismal 23-45-12-2 and Boston finished out of the money. Even a single point out of that series would've meant Boston went to the postseason ahead of Carolina.
It's looking as if this season is going to be defined in no small part by their inability to beat the Buffalo Sabres. Last night, the Bruins dropped their fifth decision of the season to their Northeast Division rival by a 3-2 score at
Mathematically, of course, the Bruins are still in the playoff hunt, but their aspirations took another hit with this latest setback. Of their 20 remaining games, 11 are vs. foes in their division, against which they are now 7-13-1.
If you thought you were going to see a more desperate, more productive team after the Olympic break, it hasn't happened. Since their return, the Bruins are 1-3.
''We've got to start picking up some points," said left wing Sergei Samsonov.
The last two games against Buffalo, both 3-2 losses, ''were close games we probably should've had," he said. ''I think that's the most frustrating part. We've got to get on a roll here, we can't keep on losing. There's got to be some urgency. There's no turning back, we've got to start picking up some points."
The clubs were tied, 1-1, heading into the first intermission. The Bruins struck first on a fluky goal by Patrice Bergeron at 8:59. Brad Boyes, who was high in the slot, fired the puck toward the net and it knuckleballed its way in, pinballing off Bergeron before finding its way past netminder Ryan Miller. It was Bergeron's 20th tally of the year.
The Sabres rallied to tie at 11:39 on their first of two power-play goals. Daniel Briere dished a pass to J.P. Dumont, who relayed it to Jason Pominville. His wrister from high in the slot beat goalie Tim Thomas over the glove for his 15th of the season.
Boston went back on top early in the second at 3:10 on a power-play strike of its own. Rookie defenseman Milan Jurcina fired home a wrister from the right point with Glen Murray screening in front. But Buffalo came back on the man advantage again.
Bruins defenseman David Tanabe was called for a trip at 10:48 but Briere went with him when he was called for diving. Just 10 seconds later, Nick Boynton was assessed a holding infraction, giving the Sabres a four-on-three advantage.
The Sabres made it count at 11:37 when Thomas Vanek redirected a shot from Ales Kotalik, making it 2-2.
It was shades of Saturday night when Jochen Hecht, who was practically unstoppable at TD Banknorth Garden, put the Sabres ahead to stay.
Briere, deep in the left circle, fired a shot on Thomas that the goalie got in front of, but the puck bounced out to Hecht, who backhanded in the rebound with 3:51 remaining in the period.
As the Sabres were putting themselves in good position, the Bruins were having a hard time generating offense. They were getting the puck in the direction of the net but didn't record a shot for more than the final half of the period.
The scoreless third was chippy, with the Sabres making more than incidental contact with Thomas. At 9:43, Briere high-sticked Thomas's helmet off, prompting Boynton to go after Briere in support of his netminder. Both were sent to the box.
Boynton said he was frustrated by what he felt was diving by Buffalo as well as too much running of the goalie.
''They're flopping around like fish out of water -- it's embarrassing," said Boynton. ''All you have to do to be a [general manager] now is give your team some acting lessons.
''You're supposed to fine guys for diving, but they don't do it, so hats off to them; they play the rules the way I guess we have to play it.
''It's tough to look at yourself in the mirror after a game when you know you're flopping around and taking dives and not playing the game the way it should be played. That's the way they've always been, even before the new rules. They do it well, they do it really well, they fool the refs every time."