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SABRES 7, BRUINS 1

Bruins again flat-out beaten

Briere, Sabres take advantage

BUFFALO -- Meet the Bruins, the movable feast of the 2006-07 NHL season. Home or away, they have become the sacrificial meal offered up on a nightly basis to be devoured by the rest of the Original 30.

Listless and often confused/discombobulated for major portions of the 60 minutes before a sellout crowd of 18,690 at HSBC Arena, the Bruins were chewed up, 7-1, last night by the Buffalo Sabres -- a fourth straight loss that dropped them below .500 (22-23-1-3) for the first time since Nov. 16.

Out of it from the start, in part because of three penalties taken in the opening 2:04, the bumbling B's have now been outscored, 19-3, in their last four games. They were undone here by Daniel Briere (3 goals) and Maxim Afinogenov (3 assists), and by their own lackluster and dispirited effort, something that has become their trademark the last two weeks.

They are now 4-10-1-1 in 16 games since the Christmas break, and unless the momentum changes in a hurry ( with the Sabres eyeing them on the Causeway menu tomorrow?), they are pointed toward their fourth postseason DNQ in the last seven seasons.

The cultural change that team ownership put into action last summer, including an overhaul of the front office and the roster, thus far has resulted in a collapse almost identical to the franchise implosion that occurred following last season's Olympic break.

The Hub of Hockey has become all but hopeless.

"It's like a well," said coach Dave Lewis, who drastically reconfigured his lines going into the contest, only to see rookie pivot David Krejci exit in the first period with a concussion. "You're going down . . . you're going down . . . and there is nothing to grab on to. There's light at the top of the well, and we have to figure out how to get back up."

It's a hard climb, though, when working in arrears virtually every period of every game. The Sabres, sent along their way with a five-on-three power-play goal (Thomas Vanek) at 2:15 of the first, were staked to a 2-0 lead at 8:33 when former BU Terrier Chris Drury struck for another power-play goal.

A Glen Murray slapper, also on a five-on-three, cut it to 2-1 late in the first, but the Sabres rattled off the next five in a row, and four of those (two by Briere, one by Paul Gaustad, one by Jason Pominville) came in a middle period in which the Bruins showed next to zero fight and an equal amount of skill.

"We have to stay together and get out of this together," said veteran pivot Marc Savard, who threw the setup pass for Murray to ram home for Boston's one bright moment of the night. "We have to stay together and be there for each other. I know one thing, that was a horrible way to start the [first] period."

The parade of horribles began with a Wayne Primeau hold (0:17), followed by a Shean Donovan hook (1:06) and then a delay of game at 2:04 when captain Zdeno Chara popped the puck over the glass. Eleven seconds after Big Z's little boo-boo, Vanek hammered home the go-ahead goal. The landslide had begun.

Adding to the horror show, the Bruins lost Krejci for the night when he was drilled by a stiff elbow to the upper body from Sabres forward Adam Mair. Called up from Providence earlier in the day, Krejci was out cold on his feet at 14:51, after only three shifts and 2:07 in ice time. Brad Stuart and team trainer Don DelNegro scraped him off the ice and sent him on his way to the dressing room, one heck of a Wile E. Coyote welcome to the big leagues.

"I don't remember how I got in the room," said Krejci, who will be examined today in Boston, his availability for tomorrow night's game doubtful. "I'm feeling better every minute. It's up to the coach if I can play. I could play if it was up to me."

Typical of Boston's play this season, no one ever took Mair to task for the high hit. There was a slight dustup after the belt, but it amounted to nothing more than pixie dust.

Primeau engaged him in what would best be called a courtesy bout midway through the third, but all in all, the Bruins do little sticking up for each other. Savard was boarded from behind late in the second by Gaustad, the score at 5-1, and again there was no retaliation.

They all wear the same uniform, but a team is woven in spirit, not in textiles. Right now the Bruins look worn out and lost.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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