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Kotalik part of Ruff's line shuffle

Ales Kotalik is eager to forget about Saturday night. He's just as ready to get to Monday.

It took just four periods this postseason for Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff to start juggling his forward lines, and Kotalik was part of the rotation. Ruff, looking for a spark after a lackluster first period in the 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders, changed wingers on two lines.

Drew Stafford was promoted to the line featuring center Chris Drury and right wing Dainius Zubrus. Stafford's arrival bumped Ales Kotalik down to the fourth line with center Tim Connolly and right wing Adam Mair.

Part of the reason was Stafford was more active, especially in the first period. The rookie recorded one shot and one hit in 3:25, while Kotalik's only stats were a giveaway and a minus-1 rating in 3:57. Stafford finished the game with three shots and three hits; Kotalik had no shots and one hit.

Stafford spent time on Drury's wing during the regular season while Kotalik was out with a knee injury.

"The whole point of it, you want to take that chance that hopefully you'll get some chemistry there," Stafford said. "We had a couple chances."

Ruff also wanted to see if Connolly and Kotalik could generate offense. They were linemates with Maxim Afinogenov last season, when Kotalik scored 25 goals. The duo may stay with Mair for Game Three on Monday in Nassau Coliseum.

"When I was starting here six years ago, most of the time I was playing with Tim Connolly, and we had a great connection, especially last year," Kotalik said. "It's frustrating. I couldn't get myself going [Saturday] and get those quality opportunities. Hopefully, with Timmy we can find it again and be a good line for this team."

***

Ruff had a simple message for Afinogenov regarding the winger's game-deciding penalty: Don't do it.

Afinogenov was whistled for hooking Miroslav Satan with 12:02 to play, and the Islanders scored on the power play to snap a 2-2 tie.

"Don't put your stick there," Ruff said. "If you put your stick there, you're asking for a penalty. The rule is, don't put your stick in a guy's midsection. I don't care if Miro grabbed it or not. You can call Miro for holding the stick, but you still call Max for hooking."

The Sabres encourage their defensemen to act like forwards whenever they want. The Islanders are probably wishing they'd stop.

Sabres defensemen scored both goals Saturday and have four of the team's six goals this series. Toni Lydman and Dmitri Kalinin struck in Game Two after Brian Campbell scored twice in the opener.

Kalinin's first career playoff goal made the score 2-2 with 17:48 left. He pinched to the slot and ripped a shot that Rick DiPietro saved, then stayed in the play rather than retreat to the blue line. He recovered a loose puck and sent it inside the right post.

"The defense are trying hard to get involved," Ruff said. "I thought for the most part they've done a pretty good job of getting up ice."

***

DiPietro is no stranger to attention. He was the first overall pick in 2000. He's been in the Olympics. He signed an unheard-of 15-year contract last summer. But even he was shocked Saturday afternoon.

The Islanders goaltender entered the dressing room after the game-day skate and couldn't believe the throng of writers, broadcasters, cameramen and announcers crowded around his stall.

"This is T.O. stuff," said DiPietro with a laugh, referring to football player Terrell Owens, who draws large crowds because of his antics and quotes.

***

Daniel Briere, as expected, was in the Sabres' lineup and not hindered by the leg bruise that kept him out of Friday's practice.

"It's just a bruise," the co-captain said. "It's one of those things that happens along the season all the time. Yesterday was just a day to have a chance to recuperate. It's nothing major. A lot more guys are going to need days off as the series goes on."

***

The corner locker stall that DiPietro occupied was the same one used in Game One by Wade Dubielewicz, who went from attention-getting phenom to ignored backup. But after spending most of four seasons in the American Hockey League, Dubielewicz likely earned a full-time role with the big club next season after helping the Isles make the playoffs.

"He definitely made a case for himself," New York coach Ted Nolan said. "Sometimes people just need to be given an opportunity to play in this league, and he had the opportunity. He jumped all over it."

***

The third annual Scotty Bowman Showcase featuring the top high school-aged players from Buffalo and Rochester starts at 2 this afternoon in the arena.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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