May 4, 2007
By Brian Wheeler
William Shakespeare couldn't have penned a Buffalo Sabres victory that was more poetic.
Trailing the New York Rangers, 1-0, after dictating play for nearly the entire 60 minutes, a Sabres captain added to his legacy as a winner and Buffalo's dismissed hero regained his elite status to give Buffalo the three-games-to-two lead in the series.
Chris Drury sent Game Five into overtime with 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation and Maxim Afinogenov returned from a one-game benching to score the game-winning, power-play goal in the extra frame to give Buffalo the 2-1 victory and put them one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive season.
"It's a great story," said Drury. "It's the highs and lows of playoff hockey."
No one is on more of a high than Afinogenov. Watching the Sabres falter in Game Four from the press box didn't sit well with Buffalo's dynamic winger, but he channeled that disappointment and focused.
He wasn't perfect in Game Five, but he was much better.
Four minutes into overtime, Afinogenov did what he does, drawing a penalty on Blair Betts by using his speed, and then snapped a slapshot from just inside the blueline eleven seconds later to snap Buffalo's two-game losing streak.
Afinogenov was so excited that his mind went blank. He couldn't think of a celebration, so he simply flopped onto his stomach and skidded into center ice.
"It's probably the biggest goal of my career," said Afinogenov.
"He never snapped, so to speak," said Drury. "He never threw sticks. He never said woe is me. A lot of guys talked to him after the game flying back from New York and his mind was in the right place."
Afinogenov had been stifled in the playoffs. The game winner was just his second goal of the post-season and fifth point. This from the player that led Buffalo in scoring in 2005-06 with 72 points and averaged more than a point a game this season.
His performance had been less than ideal, so Daniel Paille skated in his stead in the fourth game of the series.
"He got the biggest hug from me in the runway," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "I was really excited for him.
"He skated. He was challenging wide. He beat players. He was the old Max tonight, which is what we need."
But had it not been for Drury, the storybook ending would have never happened.
Buffalo had peppered netminder Henrik Lundqvist with 40 shots, couldn't find the back of the net, and found themselves trailing by a goal when Martin Straka's wristshot zipped over Ryan Miller
's right shoulder at 16:41 of the third.
The goal sucked the energy out of HSBC Arena and Buffalo's season looked to be spiraling out of control.
But with 7.7 ticks remaining on the clock, Drury breathed new life into Buffalo and added a distinctive statistic to accompany his 14 game winners and four overtime winners.
Collecting Thomas Vanek
's rebound at the left hash mark, the co-captain spun and fired over Lundqvist's right shoulder to tie the score and force overtime at 19:52.
For a man who has been in the spotlight for almost always being in the right place at the right time, Drury had never sent a game into overtime in his career.
"This one is sweet," said Ruff. "These guys have answered the bell all year long and they've been up for the challenge. That challenge was taken down to the dying seconds and they still answered it."
The victory gives Buffalo control as the series shifts to Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon (NBC, 2 p.m.).
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