April 25, 2007
By Brian Wheeler
The Buffalo Sabres wanted to return to their wide-open style of hockey in the second round. Mission accomplished.
Buffalo rolled four lines effectively for 60 minutes, steamrolling the New York Rangers 5-2 in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.
"We wanted to open the game up and take a few more chances and that's when we're at our best," said Jason Pominville
. "We came out strong and got some big hits at the start of the game."
Dictating play with their speed, Buffalo forced New York to take penalty after penalty in order to slow the attack.
The team was stymied by netminder Henrik Lundqvist's first 23 saves, but when Thomas Vanek
finally put a redirection into the back of the net at 14:19 of the second, the floodgates opened in true Sabres fashion.
Buffalo tacked on two more goals in a four minutes span to take a 3-0 lead that they would never relinquish. The offensive explosion ignited with just four shots.
"Once we got one, we got another one," said Pominville. "It seems like [the Rangers] started taking a few more chances and it started to open up the game a little bit."
With a second goal to cap off the second period, Vanek joined Chris Drury and Brian Campbell as the only Sabres with multi-goal games during the playoffs.
"That was a big-time tip and a big-time goal that he came up with late in the period," said head coach Lindy Ruff regarding Vanek. "When you can get a 3-0 lead, it's pretty tough in this league usually."
The victory was punctuated by the penalty kill allowing just two Rangers' shots on a two-man advantage with 13 minutes left to play. Being burned by New York 29.2 per cent of the time in their first four meetings, Buffalo was happy to allow just a single man-advantage goal. Ryan Miller
backstopped the Sabres with 32 saves in his best performance of the post-season.
New York, on the other hand, was not happy with the pace of the contest or the final 50 minutes of play.
"We don't like [trading chances with Buffalo]," said Rangers head coach Tom Renney. "We want to stay away from the track meet. They're just too quick, their transition game is excellent and they can score from any number of locations in their lineup, so we've got to be a little bit more intelligent team and play a more complete game."
The sixth time was the charm as Buffalo took at 1-0 lead with five minutes remaining in the second period.
Stationed in front of the net, Vanek redirected Dmitri Kalinin's pointshot five-hole on Henrik Lundqvist for his third goal of the playoffs at 14:19.
The goal was Buffalo's fifth with the man advantage in 30 opportunities during the post-season and extended Vanek's point scoring streak to five points (3+2) in as many games.
"We finally got the big power-play goal, and from there, we just kept rolling," said Vanek.
Exactly two minutes later, the Sabres "fourth line" continued to play out of character.
On a two-on-two rush, Adam Mair slipped a pass to AlesKotalik, who snapped a wristshot into the top-left corner of the net to extend Buffalo's lead to a pair at 16:19. The goal was Kotalik's first of the playoffs, but the assist gave Mair his fourth point (1+3) in six games.
The hard-nosed center recorded just two goals and 11 points in 82 regular season contests.
"I don't view our line as a fourth line," said Kotalik. "[Mair and Tim Connolly] can make plays and we aren't a checking line."
A mind boggling defensive move by Paul Mara gave Vanek more room than New York would have liked.
Attacking the net from the left wing, Vanek cut around Mara, who slid on his stomach to the left post, moved into the slot and fired to put Buffalo ahead 3-0 with 36 seconds remaining in the period.
Pominville was driven into the Rangers' net by defenseman Fedor Tyutin, knocking the cage from its mooring, but not before Jochen Hecht
's pass deflected off his body for the right winger's third goal of the playoffs and Buffalo's fourth of the night at 13:47 of the third. Drew Stafford
added an empty netter with 16 ticks left on the clock to make the score 5-2.
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