Most Buffalo Sabres are driven by the pain of last season's playoffs. The sting of falling one period shy of the Stanley Cup finals still makes them cringe.
Dainius Zubrus would love to have memories that fresh. Until Thursday night, he hadn't played a postseason game since 2003. Worse, he hasn't been out of the first round in 10 years, since Philadelphia went to the finals in 1997. So while the Sabres are intent on making that next step, Zubrus is fervent to take any.
He showed it Thursday.
The Sabres' key acquisition at the trade deadline demonstrated to his teammates and the New York Islanders that he wants to be a playoff performer. Toiling for years among the also-rans has made Zubrus yearn for the postseason, and he responded with three assists as the Sabres beat the Islanders, 4-1, in HSBC Arena.
"My rookie year I went to the finals, and then I never went past the first round," Zubrus said. "When you're a rookie and you get to the finals, you're thinking that it's -- I don't want to say easy -- but you know you're going to have a chance a little more often. Then 10 years later, you know how hard it is to get to this.
"It's the opportunity for me of a lifetime. That's the way I look at it."
Zubrus had three hits to go along with his three assists, and he made it clear from his first shift the Islanders should be aware. The 6-foot-4 right winger made a beeline toward New York's Ryan Smith, just missing a full blow but still causing a loud crash.
"You could see in his eyes and his body language and his effort how bad he wants this," linemate Chris Drury said, "how bad he wants to win and how happy he is here on a team that has a good chance to win it."
Zubrus set up Drury's second goal, the one that gave Buffalo a two-goal lead in the third period. Zubrus chased down a loose puck and wasted no time sending it across the ice. Isles goaltender Wade Dubielewicz had no chance on Drury's one-timer.
"He got here and was going in the corners and winning battles and playing as hard as he's been playing," Drury said. "It really gave our line a boost and gave our team a boost."
Zubrus was effective in all facets of the game. He was the only Sabres forward to get more than 20 minutes of ice time (20:06), including 1:23 while short-handed to help the penalty killers go 3 for 3.
"Coach gave me a great big part here, lots of ice time in big situations," Zubrus said. "I try to go hard, and today things worked out."