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Buffalo Two Points Away

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres

March 30, 2007
by Brian Wheeler

During the 2005-06 season, the Buffalo Sabres fed off their exceptional special teams play well into the Eastern Conference Finals. This season the team has relied heavily on five-on-five scoring.

But on Friday night against the New York Islanders the special teams units were reminiscent of their 2005-06 counterparts. The Sabres scored pair of power play and shorthanded goals in the opening 15 minutes of play, defeating the Islanders 6-4 and moving just one win shy of clinching the Eastern Conference.

Buffalo has a chance to claim their first conference crown since 1980 in Montreal on Saturday night.

"There are always little milestones through the year and that would be an exciting one to get, especially with a week left to go," said co-captain Chris Drury. "I'm sure it's something that we will be talking about tomorrow."

Drury led the Buffalo attack with two special teams goals, one shorthanded and one power play, while the line of Roy, Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek accounted for a goal and an assist each. Stafford's 13th of the season came with the man advantage, while Roy's 17th came a man down. Dainius Zubrus added an insurance goal midway through the third.

"The first period was obviously our best," said Drury, who has captained Buffalo to its first back-to-back 50 win seasons in franchise history. "It got pretty sloppy after that. But at the end of the day it's still a "W" and it's better than getting on the plane with a loss."

"We came out in the first period and skated as well as we had in a long time," said head coach Lindy Ruff, whose team has scored six goals or more in a game 29 times the last two seasons, all victories. "It was very important with the way we've started some of our previous games."

The power play has been steadily gaining momentum over the past week, scoring multiple goals in three of their last five games. Buffalo is 14-2-1 when scoring two or more power-play goals in a game.

"We were moving the puck pretty well," said Drury. "Ever since our slump a couple of weeks ago, our power play has been going pretty good. Hopefully, we can keep it going right into the playoffs."

Production has come from a variety of sources. Five different players - Drury, Roy, Stafford, Vanek (2) and Daniel Briere - lit the lamp during the current hot streak.

Buffalo's 7-4 victory over Toronto on Nov. 11 has been the only other time this season that the Sabres have scored more than one shorthanded goal in a game and the only time any NHL team recorded two in the same period.

Rookie Mike Ryan was the last Sabres penalty killer to score, prior to Friday night's light-up, when he netted his third career goal in Buffalo's 8-5 victory over Montreal on Mar. 2.

"You can't just run up [ice]," said Roy. "The defense has to join and somebody has to stay back. You can't run and gun on penalty kill. You get a three-on-two and miss the net, they're coming back on a three-on-one the other way."

Entering the game, Buffalo's six shorthanded goals was tied for 10th worst in the league.

"We usually don't score shorthanded," said Roy. "We don't go for it and blow the zone. That's just not how our system is played.

"Our penalty kill is designed to stop goals, not score them. With our system if there is a loose puck and we have a chance to go, then maybe we go."

Roy's second career shorthanded goal opened the scoring, coming 2:14 into the game. The 23-year-old center tipped Jason Pominville's bouncing clearing attempt past Marc-Andre Bergeron and beat Mike Dunham on the ensuing breakaway with a wristshot into the top-left corner of the net.

Jason Blake tied the game with a hard wristshot from the slot with a New York advantage at 4:28.

With a quick slight of hand, Vanek gave Buffalo the lead with his 11th point (4+7) in his last 10 games.

Collecting his own rebound at the left post, Vanek faked behind the net, turned and stuffed the puck past the netminder's right side at 7:55 to give Buffalo the 2-1 lead.

With a two-man advantage, Drury's bomb of a one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle made the water bottles on top of the net jump and gave Buffalo the two-goal lead at 10:03.

Just 53 seconds later and with two clicks remaining in the second penalty, Stafford backhanded Vanek's rebound into the top of the net to record his 11th goal of the season and third with the man advantage.

Drury stripped Randy Robitaille at New York's blueline and deked to the right post before scoring his second of the game shorthanded with a backhander at 14:57.

"We were just trying to be in [shooting] lanes and it's a nice little reward," said Drury.

New York fought back to within a two goals with pair of special teams goals of their own third period.

Viktor Kozlov cut through the slot shorthanded and fired to make the score 5-2 in favor of Buffalo at 2:38 of the third, while Tom Poti tacked the Islanders third goal over Miller's left shoulder at 5:01.

"We made great plays coming up ice," said Ruff. "Once we got in the zone, we made some terrible decisions with the puck. That led to them getting back in the game."

Zubrus helped Chris Drury wraparound attempt over the goal line for Buffalo's third power play goal of the game and his 23rd of the season at 12:31.

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