PHILADELPHIA -- Buffalo Sabres wing Thomas Vanek was at a loss for words following a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center.
Surely, Vanek would have liked to come to the aide of his teammates during what seemed to be a first-period meltdown when the Sabres were outshot, 16-2. The game was there for the taking early in the second period, when the visitors were working a power-play and generating some quality chances that just couldn't find their mark.
Vanek was at the center of that man advantage and for all the right reasons. His four power-play goals in the series were just one short of the franchise record set by Pat LaFontaine in 1992.
But it just wasn't happening against goalie Brian Boucher and the more determined, more energized Flyers on this night. Vanek would log 20:54 of ice time for the game, including 4:26 of 7:02 on the man advantage. He'd generate five shots, one that was blocked and two others that missed the cage completely.
The final game of Vanek's remarkable season, during which he led the Sabres in goals (32), assists (41) and points (73) in 80 games, would come to a frustrating finish.
Vanek spoke to reporters after the loss.
Q: Thomas, it seemed like they really took it to you in the first period?
Vanek: They got us on our heels in the first and they came out hard. (Ryan) Miller kept us in it and we did get a crack to even it up in the second on that power-play chance. But we couldn't close the gap and they capitalized on their power-play opportunities to get that three-goal lead at the second intermission. It was frustrating.
Q: It seemed as though Philadelphia had more energy than Buffalo from the outset?
Vanek: I think we were ready. We knew we could win this but, as I said, they put us on our heels a little bit in the first. Millsy played great … it's really just tough to explain it right now.
Q: What did you take out of this series?
Vanek: Obviously, a loss. But when you look at it, besides (Game 7), it was close the whole series. We had a crack at it at home (in Game 6) and probably played a good enough game to win, but couldn't keep the lead from them. That's the part that stings even more because we had it and gave it away.
Q: Are you then saying Game 6 was the turning point for you guys, losing that one-goal lead in the third?
Vanek: I think if we just kept it up the way we did right before the end of the second into the third, we would have taken it. So, with that said, it's very disappointing. But at the same time, this group played hard for four months and I don't think many people gave us a chance at all. We gave it our best, but it wasn't good enough.
Q: Are you disappointed for goalie Ryan Miller?
Vanek: He was great for us all year long. The first goal given up was just an unfortunate bounce. As bad as we played in the first, though, we had that power-play in the second period and couldn't get it tied up. They scored some nice goals on screens … and those are tough for any goalie.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale