April 18, 2007
by Brian Wheeler
A pile up in front of the net with sticks hacking away had Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff wondering if his team still held a one-goal lead.
Ruff needn't have worried.
Alexei Yashin's alleged goal with three minutes remaining in regulation was wiped away and Jason Pominville scored with 1:12 left to give Buffalo the 4-2 victory and a three-to-one lead in their best-of-seven, opening-round series with the New York Islanders.
Game Five returns to HSBC Arena this Friday [MSG, WGR 550-AM, 7 p.m.].
"Just looking at the replay, you would have had to of figured that [Miller] had it covered and the whistle blew," said Ruff.
"There's always doubt in your mind. Until you saw the referee cross his arms and move them left to right, there's always doubt."
Yashin's first goal of the playoffs was wiped away when it was determined that he scored by shoving goaltender Ryan Miller over the goal line with puck in tow. Miller couldn't have agreed more with the assessment.
"I brought my legs back together and there were no sticks to push it in," said Miller. "The ref said the one that made the difference was the guy that just dove at me with his hands out. I asked, 'What about the guy that came in sliding feet first and kicked me into the net like a wrestling move?'
"The puck was above the goal line the whole time until those guys made contact."
Miller registered his 14th career playoff victory in a style reminiscent of the goaltender he is now chasing for the franchise record. The 26-year-old took over second place, surpassing Don Edwards and Bob Sauve in the Sabres' playoff record books, by turning away 24 shots, including a Dominik Hasek-esk diving, kick save on Viktor Kozlov in the first period.
Hasek holds the franchise record for playoff wins with 37.
"It was another one of those tight games," said Miller. "These guys really go hard with four lines and battle hard. They adjusted on their power play and we're going to have to take a look at that."
The Sabres have shown a remarkable ability to bounce back from late goals. In Game Three, Ryan Smyth scored with eight seconds remaining in the second. Buffalo responded by out shooting the Islanders 17-2 in the third.
On Wednesday, New York once again beat Miller in the last minute of a period. But Buffalo's "Captain Clutch" regained the Sabres lead. Chris Drury scored his second goal of the night 39 ticks into the third period on the power play to put Buffalo up 3-2.
"Pucks find people like Chris," said Ruff. "It's a lot like Thomas [Vanek]. Thomas need a split second to put that rebound in."
Vanek scored Buffalo's first goal of the game 11 minutes into the first to tie the score 1-1 off Teppo Numminen's slapshot from the point.
"Those guys [goal scorers] have a knack for being in the right place and then they have the knack for putting it away," said Ruff, referring to Drury and Vanek.
New York took the early lead with Jason Blake's first goal of the post-season.
Cutting to the slot, Blake one-timed Tom Poti's feed past Miller's outstretched glove for his first post-season goal at 6:24.
Rick DiPietro gave up a rebound directly to Vanek which the Austrian converted to tie the game. Vanek batted Numminen's shot, which caromed off the netminder's pads, into the back of the net from the low slot to record his second goal of the post-season at 11:17.
"At first I almost tipped it," said Vanek. "But it came back to me."
Just 1:48 later, Dainius Zubrus setup Drury for his team-leading third goal of the playoffs.
Fighting his way behind the net, Zubrus feathered a pass to Buffalo's co-captain at the top of the crease for a 2-1 Sabres lead.
The first assist was Zubrus' team-leading fifth of the playoffs, while the second assist marked rookie Drew Stafford's first career playoff point.
The Islanders even the score with just 15.4 seconds remaining in the second with just their second power-play goal of the series. Kozlov collected a loose puck, cut behind the net and slung a feed to Mike Sillinger in front for the slam dunk and a 2-2 score.
The Islanders were just one for 15 with the man advantage entering Game Four.
An Richard Park interference penalty at the end of the first period opened the door for Buffalo to take a 3-2 lead on the power play.
Just 39 seconds into the second period, Drury deflected Brian Campbell's point shot, fought to the rebound, and snapped a wristshot into the top-right corner of the net for his second goal of the night and fourth of the playoffs.
The power-play was Buffalo fourth during the playoffs, Drury's second.
With a tenacious effort on the forecheck, Pominville stripped Marc-Andre Bergeron and beat Rick DiPietro five-hole with a wristshot for his first goal of the post-season and a 4-2 Sabres lead at 18:48.
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Quotes and audio courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.