BUFFALO, N.Y. - Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres sure looked like the cream of the crop Wednesday night.
Vanek scored twice, sparking a three-goal second period, and Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series opener. Jason Pominville and Ales Kotalik also scored for a Buffalo team that played much better after struggling to eliminate the New York Islanders in five games in the first round.
The Sabres were particularly motivated after Rangers coach Tom Renney said this week that top-seeded Buffalo wasn't the NHL's "cream of the crop" team.
Marcel Hossa and Brendan Shanahan scored third-period goals for the Rangers, who lost their first game this postseason after sweeping Southeast Division champion Atlanta. The Rangers went 1-for-5 in power-play chances, but failed to score during a 2-minute, two-man advantage early in the third period.
The Sabres never allowed the Rangers to within a goal in the third, and Drew Stafford sealed the win with an empty-netter.
New York didn't look rusty in its first game in a week, but the Rangers struggled to keep up with the Sabres' depth and speed. That was apparent when the Sabres went up 3-0, scoring three times on four shots during a 4:05 span late in the second period.
The Rangers allowed a total of six goals in the first round against the Thrashers.
Vanek opened the scoring 14 minutes into the frame with a power-play goal. Parked in front and a step ahead of defender Daniel Girardi, Vanek was in perfect position to deflect in Dmitri Kalinin's shot from inside the blue line.
Buffalo's fourth line struck for the next goal when Kotalik, set up by Adam Mair's pass, split two defenders and snapped a shot from the right circle that beat Henrik Lundqvist high on the far side.
Vanek capped the surge when he beat Karel Rachunek at the Rangers' blue line then drove in and around Paul Mara, and scored on a defenseless Lundqvist.
Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the game by stopping the first 23 shots he faced, including 15 in the opening period.
Miller was sharp before having his shutout bid spoiled when Hossa beat him with a one-timer with 9:16 left, briefly cutting Buffalo's lead to 3-1.
Miller's best save came a few minutes earlier during the Rangers' two-man advantage, when he snagged Brendan Shanahan's shot despite being screened by New York's Sean Avery.
The Rangers welcomed back Rachunek, who had missed 16 games with a sprained right knee. But New York then lost Michal Rozsival, the Rangers top offensive defenseman, who didn't return after hurting his leg early in the second period.
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