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Trends favor Sabres in Long Island opener

The Buffalo Sabres adore the positive results they get in their first road game of a playoff series. The New York Islanders hate the negative outcomes when they return home.

So taking a 2-1 series lead tonight will depend on whether the Sabres can continue their trend or the Islanders can buck theirs.

The Sabres have dominated when facing hostile fans for the first time under coach Lindy Ruff. He is 10-3 in the initial road game since stepping behind the bench in 1997-98. Ruff's 14th road opener comes at 7:30 tonight when the Sabres and Islanders face off in Nassau Coliseum.

"I think sometimes your game almost simplifies on the road," Ruff said Sunday. "We have a lot better tendency of having a more basic game when we get on the road. You try to drive that home. If we take care of the little things, we'll have success."

The only thing the Islanders have been good at in recent playoffs is letting their fans down. The Isles, just as they have this series, split the opening two games on the road in 2003 and 2004. But Ottawa left Long Island with back-to-back wins in 2003, and Tampa Bay blanked New York in both games in 2004.

"I think we're a lot more mature as a hockey team than we were back then," Islanders forward Jason Blake said. "We have a lot older team this year, and I know we'll be ready."

Tickets for Game Three were readily available as of Sunday night, but the Islanders are still eager to show Buffalonians their fans are just as passionate as those who sold out an entire season.

"I know as a team we can't wait to get back on Long Island because we know how loud our fans can be," goaltender Rick DiPietro said. "We don't have any doubt it will be as loud as any building in the NHL, and we really can't wait."

***

Islanders coach Ted Nolan met with his captain, Alexei Yashin, for 20 minutes Sunday. Though neither divulged the details, it's certain the dominant theme was what happened in Game Two.

Yashin, who has only one shot in the series, was benched for much of the final 40 minutes Saturday in Buffalo. He played a team-low 7:07, and it's possible (but unlikely) he could start on the fourth line tonight.

"Whatever I get, I will give my best," said Yashin, who had 50 points in 58 games this season. "I'm not thinking individual role. It's really like a team effort."

Nolan, long known as a coach who demands full effort, benched Yashin earlier this season, too.

"We need a little bit more from everybody, from the 20th man to the first man," Nolan said. "We have been doing that almost all season. [Saturday] night, it just happened to be Yash's situation that came up. We needed to get something going, so we put [Richard] Zednik on that line."

***

Sabres co-captain Chris Drury and center Tim Connolly took Sunday off rather than practice with their teammates in HSBC Arena. Ruff said it was just a day of rest for both and neither is injured.

The Sabres arrived on Long Island on Sunday afternoon without incident, despite the intense rain and wind that socked the area.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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