Sabres Up 2-0

The Buffalo Sabres' perfect regular-season mark against the New York Rangers got pushed to the back burner before this playoff series started.

Sure the Sabres were 4-0 against their downstate rivals, but they won twice in overtime, once in a shootout and only once against No. 1 goalie, Henrik Lundqvist.

Oddsmakers have made New York -125 money line (NHL Odds) favorites for todays game, the over/under has been set at 5.5ov total goals (Matchup). Our public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on Buffalo +105 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

The teams hadn't met since Dec. 1, long before the Rangers acquired Sean Avery and turned their season around with an impressive 13-3-4 surge to a playoff spot.

And everything starts new in the postseason anyway, right? So what did it matter.

Well, two games into the best-of-seven, Eastern Conference semifinal series, Buffalo's record is still unblemished. The Rangers dominated play through 40 minutes of Game 2 on Friday night but still fell short as the top-seeded Sabres turned a pair of third-period miscues into two quick goals, as they did all season when they scored an NHL-best 308.

``We can't be afraid to make mistakes,'' forward Matt Cullen said Saturday after the Rangers' 30-minute practice. ``Now, we need to throw everything we have at them.''

New York was back on the ice Saturday about 15 hours after dropping Game 2 in Buffalo 3-2. In the series opener, the Rangers were done in by a stretch of 4:05 when the Sabres scored three times in the second period of a 5-2 victory.

About 24 hours before returning to home ice for Sunday's Game 3, the Rangers tried to present the look of a team every bit as confident down 0-2 as they were when they first took on Buffalo with bravado.

``The mood was good. They feel they are very much in this thing,'' coach Tom Renney said. ``It's a short memory about the bad stuff and a long memory about the good stuff. We're taking out of (Friday) what we should and also leaving behind what we shouldn't.''

What they certainly would like to forget was defenseman Marek Malik's blind clearing attempt that was intercepted at the blue line by Toni Lydman and turned into a shot that was deftly deflected in by Chris Drury.

Instead of having a chance to protect a 2-1 lead in the final period, the Rangers found themselves in a tie just 24 seconds into the third. When Thomas Vanek converted Drew Stafford's pass into a goal at 10:11, Buffalo had its first lead of the game and handed it to goalie Ryan Miller to protect.

The 26-year-old Miller, left off the U.S. Olympic team last year following an early-season injury, showed his world-class form - denying a prime scoring chance by Jaromir Jagr with about 2 minutes left.

He stood tall after that, too, when the Rangers pressed for the tying goal during a power play that became a 6-on-4 advantage when Lundqvist went to the bench. Miller is exceeding his regular-season success when he allowed nine goals in three games against New York.

``Just keep going, try to get chances and put the puck in,'' said Rangers forward Michael Nylander, who had four goals in the first-round sweep of Atlanta but none in the opening two games against Buffalo. ``It's nothing that sticks in our heads. He's been good for them all year.

``We just have to get to the net and make it tough for him.''

The Sabres have made things difficult for Lundqvist with their crisp, precise passing plays and skillful tips in front. That is what has brought Buffalo success and what was lacking in the first two periods Friday when New York held a 22-9 shots advantage.

``I think we got a little too fancy at times where we were looking for the perfect play instead of throwing the puck to the net and trying to crash the net and find a loose puck or a rebound,'' forward Daniel Briere said after the Sabres practiced in Buffalo.

The bad pass by Malik and an extended shift by New York's fourth line - a group of checkers unlike the Sabres' four scoring trios - directly led to the tying and winning goals that turned the Rangers' strong effort into yet another close-but-not-good-enough loss to Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo.

``We know how good of a team they are, and we know they can turn that around,'' Briere said. ``I don't think we can afford to play an easy game or a bad game.''

The Sabres might go Sunday without forward Maxim Afinogenov, who was dropped to the fourth line in Game 2 and is in danger of being a healthy scratch. He has only one goal and three assists in the playoffs after getting 23 goals and 61 points in the regular season.

``It's going to come down to what is going to give us the best chance to win,'' coach Lindy Ruff said. ``He may play where he's at, he may not play. It's a possibility.''

The Rangers will have checking forward Jed Ortmeyer back Sunday after he sat out one game in favor of Brad Isbister. Renney said Isbister helps New York in an undisclosed scheme he feels will be effective against the Sabres.

Both will play in Game 3, likely leaving Ryan Hollweg as the odd man out. Michal Rozsival, who injured a knee in the opener and was hurt again Friday, didn't practice Saturday but Renney is optimistic his most reliable defenseman will be in the lineup Sunday.

by: Gary Roberts - - Email Us

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