April 20, 2007
By Brian Wheeler
The Buffalo Sabres advanced to the second round of the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but not without some dramatics.
In the deciding fifth game of a series that has featured close contests, end-to-end action and controversy, Buffalo relinquished a three-goal lead in the third period and relied one huge save by their netminder to take a 4-3 win and a four-games-to-one series victory over the New York Islanders at HSBC Arena on Friday night.
"These guys made it tough on us," said co-captain Daniel Briere. "We heard all the experts picks; Sabres were going to win in four games, maybe five if the Islanders are lucky. It was much tougher than that."
When all was said and done, the most important moment of the series came down to one of the franchise's former stars against one of its current biggest.
With just 10 seconds remaining in the game, and Buffalo desperately clinging to a one-goal lead, netminder Ryan Miller
stuffed former Sabres captain Miroslav Satan with a sprawling, glove save at the top of the crease and then again with a snap of his mitt on the follow-up by the right post.
Buffalo cleared the puck following the ensuing face-off to take the game and the series. Satan took New York's final shot of the season and was bested by the sophomore goalie who was his teammate for just three games during his final season in Buffalo.
"I figured I had to make up for the one that Miro had scored earlier," joked Miller, who finished the game turning away 30 shots. "We were holding on and I did not want this to be a turning point in the series. I wanted to hold strong. I went paddle down and wanted to push him wide, but didn't get as big a piece of him as I thought and had to kind of panic.
"I don't think I was thinking too much. I just knew I had to get a hold of something."
"That's as good as it comes right there," said Ruff of Miller's stop. "That was an unbelievable save."
Entering the third period with a 3-0 lead, Buffalo stopped attacking, stopped being aggressive and played not to lose. It nearly cost them a round trip ticket to Long Island for Game Six.
"We tightened up and didn't want to make a mistake," said head coach Lindy Ruff of his team's play in the third. "I think that hurt our play."
New York peppered Miller with 18 shots, putting three in the back of the net as compared to Buffalo's one. The only thing that saved Buffalo was Miller's instincts and 15 saves.
"We really didn't want to go back to Long Island and give them a chance to force game seven," said co-captain Chris Drury. "We're glad to get it done tonight."
Buffalo's next opponent will be either the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning, depending on the outcome of the Lightning's opening-round series with the New Jersey Devils, which they trail three games to two.
If seventh-seeded Tampa Bay can come from behind, they will face the top-seeded Sabres. If the Devils are victorious, New York is coming to HSBC Arena and New Jersey will face Ottawa. No official dates or times for the second round have been announced, but the series could start as early as next Wednesday.
"It's nice to get this series done and maybe get a little rest," said Drury.
Buffalo's youngest player gave the Sabres the 1-0 lead late in the first period with the first post-season goal of his career.Drew Stafford
, 21, dug a loose puck out from behind the net, forced his way into the slot and netted a backhander at 15:04 . After failing to score in the first three games of the series, Stafford has made his way onto the score sheet with two points in as many games.
Adam Mair added another helper to go along with the goal and assist he recorded previously. The center's playoff career high is five goals and six points in five games for Los Angeles in 2001-02.
"You take it, you learn from it and you try to grow," said Ruff of the opening-round victory. "We've got some different players in some different roles in this playoffs and we've got to accelerate their roles. We've got to be better."
One of Buffalo's co-captains out-battled a former captain along the boards to setup the second goal of the game.
Daniel Briere extended his points-streak to five points in as many games stripping Satan behind the net and feeding Jason Pominville
for the short side wristshot just 39 seconds into the second.
After a slow start, Pominville is starting to heat up. The hero of last year's Ottawa series was held to one point in three games, but has scored two goals in his last two.Derek Roy
nets his first goal of the playoffs chipping Ales Kotalik's rebound into the top-right corner of the net to expand Buffalo's lead to three at 11:29 of the second.
It took five games and a fluky shot for Satan to put a puck in the net against his former team. Cutting down the left wing, Satan spun and flipped a blind backhander that caught Buffalo's netminder off guard at 4:22.Thomas Vanek
cut around Tom Poti with an inside-out move and slipped a pass back to Afinogenov at the top of the crease for the right winger's first goal of the playoffs and a 4-1 Sabres lead at 6:38 of the third.
Finding space in front, Trent Hunter cut Buffalo's lead to a pair with his third of the series. Hunter cleaned up Bruno Gervais' rebound at 9:43.
Another rebound by Miller leads to another Islanders goal. The netminder swept away Richard Park's initial shot directly to Chris Campoli in the slot at 13:07.
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