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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
A month ago, Marc-Andre Gragnani was wrapping up a career year in the American Hockey League.  In his fourth AHL season, the 24-year-old led all defenseman in scoring, was named to the AHL First All-Star Team and received the Eddie Shore Award as the League’s Outstanding Defenseman.

Marc-Andre Gragnani (Photo: Bill Wippert)
Now, he ranks among the NHL leaders in playoff scoring with four assists in three games.

“I’m surprised, but I’m happy,” said Gragnani, who is averaging over 20 minutes of ice time in the postseason.  “It means that I’m doing something good if I’m playing those minutes. I think I’ve been good defensively, moving the puck well, moving my feet and bringing energy to the team… It’s not about (me), it’s about playing well and it’s about winning.”

Gragnani, known as an offensive-minded defenseman, assisted on the only goal in Buffalo’s Game 1 win while also figuring in the scoring in two of Buffalo’s three power play goals in the series so far.  But Gragnani has also acquitted himself well in 5-on-5 play, as evidenced by the ice time he has logged and the fact that he is currently the only Buffalo player with a positive plus/minus rating in the series.

Head Coach Lindy Ruff is among those who have been impressed with Gragnani’s playoff showing.

“I thought Marc really, really played well. I’m delighted.  I guess you could say I’m surprised, but he’s really showed a lot of composure and did a lot of nice things on the ice.” 

Jason Pominville was in a similar situation as Gragnani in 2006 when he played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a rookie.  Although Pominville had the luxury of playing in 57 regular season games with the Sabres compared to the nine that Gragnani appeared in this year, both players were able to get a first-hand look at the playoffs as rookies and found success.  Now a veteran on the team, Pominville thinks this experience will be beneficial to Gragnani down the road. 

“A guy like Gragnani, it’s his first time playing in the playoffs and he’s handled himself really well so far and I think it can really help him in the long run.  Now he got a taste of what it’s all about and he knows what it takes and he knows how to take care of himself.  Just the extra time at the rink, whether it’s watching video or doing whatever he has to do to be at his best when the puck drops,” Pominville said.

Practice Roll Call: Patrick Kaleta was back at practice on Tuesday after leaving Game 3 following the first period with an upper body injury.  Kaleta wore a full cage over his face during practice, and joked afterward that he wore it due to a runny nose and a sore throat.  He did not reveal the reason for wearing the cage at practice, but did say he planned to play in Game 4 on Wednesday.

“I’m pumped up actually,” he said.  “I didn’t get to waste too much energy yesterday so it’s all built up and I’m ready to get back on the right path.”

Tyler Ennis and Mike Grier were both absent from practice.  According to Ruff, both players were off for “maintenance.”

Bouncing Back:  By dropping the last two games to fall back 2-1 in the series, the Sabres have now lost consecutive games for the first time since February.  For a team that had to battle back from a deep hole just to make the playoffs, it’s not time to panic.
I look at it this way: we’ve played them five times now in the last couple months and they’ve all been one-goal games. Throw the empty-netters out. Every game has been tight.” - Lindy Ruff on the matchup between the Sabres and Flyers

“It’s playoff hockey.  You’ve just got to shake it off and move forward.  There’s going to be ups and downs, the downs sometimes can get low, you just have to re-group and understand where the game got away from you and address it, then alter the game plan a little bit where a little more attention is going to help fix it,” said Ryan Miller.  

Ruff said the difference in the series was “this much” as he held his thumb and forefinger extremely close together.

“We need to make just some subtle adjustments, getting some defenseman to think just a little bit more of the defensive side, getting our forwards sometimes to be just a little bit more responsible so they can help our ‘D.’ And I think that will make the difference.  Like I told the team today, we’re right where we were four months ago,” said Ruff. 

Catching up with Roy: Derek Roy continued to skate with the team during practice and spoke with the media in the locker room on Tuesday.  The centerman, who was leading the Sabres with 35 points in 35 games when he suffered a torn quad tendon back on Dec. 23, is doing what he can to support the team while he continues to rehab the injury.

“I’m putting in the effort and working hard and all I can do is sit there and give positive encouragement and just be there for whatever (the team) needs me for…  It’s definitely tough watching the games and seeing the turnaround that came halfway through the season and it’s tough watching but at the same time the guys have been playing great and working tremendously hard and I give them a lot of credit.  There’s no doubt in my mind they will come back in this series.”

He added that he felt good skating but is not yet ready for physical contact and did not put a timetable on his return.

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