The last thing the Buffalo Sabres wanted to do was let the New York Islanders hang around.
For much of Thursday night, that's what the disregarded Islanders did. They took one measly shot in the first period and faced a persistent Sabres attack yet managed to skate well into the second period with the score tied.
Then the Sabres separated themselves.
Sabres co-captain Chris Drury scored twice in between a pair of bookend goals from defenseman Brian Campbell to thump the Islanders, 4-1, in Game One of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
"It's always good to get the first one," Drury said.
Sabres winger Dainius Zubrus demonstrated why the Sabres picked him up at the trade deadline with three assists, including a sharp pass on Drury's second goal to give them breathing room 68 seconds into the third period and another assist on Campbell's power-play goal with 3:25 to go.
"There's always concern," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said, "because if you let a team hang around, they can have those one or two good shifts or score on special teams and take a game away from you. They're fully capable of doing it."
Of Buffalo's last three goals, two were on power plays and the other came just as an Islander was leaving the penalty box.
"This is a very explosive hockey club," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said. "You have to be at your best defensive behavior at all times. At five-on-five we did OK. We've just got to be better at special teams."
Ryan Miller stopped 20 shots. He didn't have much help on New York's only goal, which tied the game early in the second period on Arron Asham's breakaway one-timer with both Sabres defensemen and a forward having been on the ice for 1:38.
Islanders goalie Wade Dubielewicz made 31 saves, but he might not get to start Game Two. The Islanders announced franchise goalie Rick DiPietro, out since suffering a second concussion in 12 days on March 25, has been cleared to play. DiPietro arrived in Buffalo on Thursday night and will practice with his team this afternoon.
Many felt the Sabres would obliterate the Islanders for the series and particularly overwhelm them in Game One.
While the Sabres won the Presidents' Trophy, the Islanders barely made it into the playoffs, winning their final four games and getting precisely what they needed from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens for the East's final berth.
Even the Islanders seemed surprised to make it. Signs of slapdash postseason preparations were troubling. Star winger Jason Blake peeked at the Sabres morning skate and asked if Maxim Afinogenov was playing again. The dry-erase board in the Islanders' dressing room didn't have Tim Connolly's number on it, had Drew Stafford on Derek Roy's line and listed Clarke MacArthur as a scratch.
Afinogenov, the Sabres' leading scorer last season, played the last three regular-season games. Connolly had played the final two games and was centering the fourth line with Stafford on his right. MacArthur was sent to the minors last week.
"No question, our scouts did a great job in giving us enough information about Buffalo," Nolan said. "We did as much as humanly possible to prepare our team in the last couple days. They're a very explosive club. Their first game at home, the crowd was behind them."
The Islanders registered one shot on goal in the first period, tying the Sabres playoff record for fewest allowed in a period, and it came off a dribbler.
Campbell put the Sabres on the board 9:30 into the game, finishing a three-on-two rush with Connolly and Stafford. Connolly skated down the left wing and pulled up at the top of the circle, feeding Campbell.
New York tied the score 6:58 into the second period despite one of Buffalo's most dominant shifts. Roy, Afinogenov and Thomas Vanek circled Dubielewicz like buzzards above wounded prey for nearly 90 seconds. Although the line got only one shot on net, they tried eight during their shift. Three went wide. Four were blocked.
Buffalo grabbed another lead on Drury's power-play goal with 8:47 left in the second period. Campbell's offering from the point was blocked, but Drury was on the spot to pump the rebound home.