It didn't take long for the Buffalo Sabres' fourth line to show it has the ability to change a game. Just 9 1/2 minutes, to be exact.
The Sabres' depth is the team's biggest asset in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it showed early Thursday in Game One against the New York Islanders.
The fourth line -- the one most teams load with hitters, brawlers or backcheckers -- struck for the first goal of the postseason. It helps that the Sabres' fourth line is unlike any other. It has the team's fifth-leading scorer from last season (Tim Connolly) and a rookie who has been one of the more potent players the last couple of months (Drew Stafford).
"I don't have the NHL playoff experience," Stafford said after the Sabres' 4-1 victory, "but I know in big games if you can get your lower lines to chip in a goal here and there -- obviously [Chris] Drury had a great game -- but if you can get an extra goal there from your lower lines, that will win you games."
The Sabres ignited the sellout crowd in HSBC Arena when Adam Mair, the line's left winger, fished out the puck along the boards and fed Connolly at center ice. The playmaker entered the Islanders' zone and hit the brakes, feeding defenseman Brian Campbell for a successful one-timer.
"It felt great, to be honest with you," said Connolly, who played his first home game in nearly a year. "It's always a great feeling when you're able to score in the playoffs, whether it's you or another guy on your team."
While acknowledging that he is, in fact, a fourth-line center at the moment, Connolly quickly laughed and added that this edition of the Sabres defies depth labels.
"We don't really have it where it's one, two, three or four," he said. "Everybody out there can play. Everybody in the lineup can play on any one of the lines.
"I'm happy with the guys that I'm out there with."
"Dubiemania" may be over.
Islanders goaltender Wade Dubielewicz made 31 saves in a decent outing against the Sabres, but there's a chance his spell-binding, two-week run from minor-leaguer to playoff starter has reached its conclusion. Franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro unexpectedly flew to Buffalo on Thursday night and pronounced himself ready to play. The concussed goalie passed his neurological exams and will practice today.
"We'll make that call in the next 24 hours," New York coach Ted Nolan said.
Dubielewicz became the toast of Long Island after winning the final four games of the regular season to vault the Islanders into the eight spot. He was effective against the Sabres, but it's hard to imagine Nolan keeping DiPietro on the sidelines if he says he's ready.
If that was Dubielewicz's one day in the postseason sun, he enjoyed it. All he had to do to realize the magnitude of the situation was talk to backup Mike Dunham, a 10-year veteran who's never played a postseason game.
"He's been in the league a long time and not even fortunate enough to play a game in the playoffs," Dubielewicz said. "I think you've really got to relish it."
Stafford left the game after picking up a roughing penalty with 22 seconds to go. He was heavily involved with Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt, but one of the combatants was New York's Ryan Smyth. Stafford's uncle works for the Edmonton Oilers, Smyth's longtime team, and Smyth is one of Stafford's all-time favorites.
"I was kind of distracted and couldn't see if it was Smitty," Stafford said. "I was getting body-slammed. I'm not really Hulk Hogan or anything, but I was checking out some wrestling moves there. But it was good."
Every time Islanders right winger and erstwhile Sabres scoring leader Miroslav Satan touched the puck, the jeers rained down. He acknowledged that it beats the alternative: silent indifference.
"If they would be quiet it would mean that they don't remember me," Satan said. "It's good that they remember me."