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Rooting for the Underdogs

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
There was no time to waste at HSBC Arena on Wednesday morning. Hitting the ice around noon, the Buffalo Sabres immediately began preparing for their second round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators.

Celebration and acknowledgement of Buffalo's opening round victory over the Philadelphia Flyers - capped off by a dominating 7-1 victory in Game Six of the series at the Wachovia Center on Tuesday night - have been postponed until further notice.

"Everybody was ok with that," commented head coach Lindy Ruff on the team's back-to-work mentality. "I thought we played a heck of a hockey game last night, so we gave them the morning to celebrate and then got to work at noon."

Ruff knows exactly where his team stands heading into Ottawa to face the top seeded team in the East for Game 1 of the Conference Semi-Finals. During the regular season, the Senators amassed 113 points, 52 victories and outscored their opponents 314-211.

The Sabres won three of eight meetings against their Northeast Division rivals this season, including the final two. Only Buffalo's 6-2 victory over a hobbled Senators team at the Scotiabank Place on April 8th came during regulation. Defensemen Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden and Chris Phillips were missing from the Senators' lineup that night due to injury.

"We're definitely the underdog going in," said Ruff, whose team was outscored by Ottawa 35-21 during the regular season. "You look at the year they had, offense they piled up and their record against us ... we have a challenge ahead of us. We know we are going to have to play our best."

"It's a good team and we have to be at the top of our game," said Toni Lydman. "As we all know, it's not going to get any easier. It's pretty much the opposite."

Ottawa advanced to the second round after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning - the defending Stanley Cup Champions - four games to one in their opening series.

"I thought for a period of time it really looked like Tampa Bay was going to do something in that series," Ruff said. "(Ottawa) came back hard in their last couple of games and looked a lot like they did early in the year."

Looking aside the records and statistics, Buffalo faces a team that can match its depth and speed - the Sabres biggest advantage during Round One against the less mobile Philadelphia Flyers - at both ends of the ice.

The positive for the Sabres is that the team has strung together arguably its two best games of the season during Games Four and Five of the Philadelphia series, outscoring the Flyers 10-1 in that span.

"We have to have elevated play like that," said Ruff. "(This series) is going to be tougher. Their defense is much more mobile and likes to join the play which makes back pressure all the more important. Our forwards are going to even have to work even harder to get back and help out."

"When you get to (the playoffs), you hope you meet anybody. After the first round, you have eight teams left and you hope you are one of them. You know your opponent is a good one because they won their first round series."

Lydman and Henrik Tallinder may never record a hat trick in the NHL, but the Sabres top defensive pairing accomplished something in Game Six against Philadelphia that may be even more impressive. Despite being matched against the Flyers top line of Peter Forsberg, Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne all game, each finished with a gaudy plus/minus rating of plus-six.

"I didn't even realize it until I saw the game sheet," Ruff said of the statistic. "When I looked at it and saw plus-six ... I don't know if that's ever happened before, especially playing against their top line. I don't think you could ever predict that."

" I was a minus for my first three years in the league," joked Lydman. "It took me like four years to become a plus player. It was one of those games where you think, 'I better save that stats sheet.'"

Only single seat tickets remain for Buffalo's three home games for Round Two. Dates and times of those games are yet to be determined. The series will start in Ottawa as the Senators have home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
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