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Forward progress Mair, Briere, Vanek score as Sabres regain series lead

Adam Mair was shocked to be sent over the boards so quickly. The fourth-line winger has been a minimalist when it comes to ice time, but Lindy Ruff called out the line moments after it had just completed a satisfying shift.

"We came off and then Lindy double-shifted us," Mair said. "I don't know. He's just so good at reading if a guy's having a good shift. He put us back out there."

Mair went back out and proved his coach's hunch correct. Mair waylaid New York Islanders winger Trent Hunter in the defensive end and stormed back to bury the opening goal of the Sabres' 3-2 victory in Game Three of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Monday night in Nassau Coliseum.

Mair's goal triggered a three-goal second period and was his first in the playoffs since -- fresh out of juniors -- he scored in his NHL debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere potted a five-on-three power-play goal for the eventual winner, and Thomas Vanek also scored. Ryan Miller made 20 saves, including two with his mask in the first period that brought the trainer out to check on him after each.

Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro stopped 32 shots and couldn't do much about the three he didn't.

The Sabres lead the best-of-seven series, 2-1. Game Four will take place Wednesday in Nassau Coliseum. The series will return to Buffalo on Friday for Game Five.

Mair's end-to-end play brought much relief to the Sabres, who survived a harrowing first period and were seeking their first lead on DiPietro. Miroslav Satan hit a pipe on a nice look from the left hash mark, and Alexei Yashin failed to get a little air under a shot from the left post with Miller supine in the crease.

"We had a number of great opportunities," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said of the opening period. "We capitalize and it's a different game. Ands, ifs and shoulds are something we don't want to talk about. We didn't. We just have to get regrouped and get ready for our next game."

The Sabres gathered themselves at the intermission then surged off Mair's goal.

"That was a hard-fought first period," Miller said. "Both teams traded some chances. They caught a crossbar and a few bounced away from me, but I was able get a hold of a few. We were able to get that first goal, it was a big lift. That's important on the road."

Mair gave the Sabres their first lead in more than 85 minutes with a sensational effort.

Mair started the play when he laid out Hunter to jar the puck away in the defensive zone. Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder collected it and skated down the left wing and passed off to Chris Drury, who fired toward the far post. Mair, charging back into the play, redirected the puck into the net at 5:17 of the second period.

"It felt great," Mair said. "I never really celebrate when I score but I celebrated after that one. It really did feel like it was a battle for every inch of the ice out there in the first period. They came out hard again on us, but we came out better in the second."

Vanek inflated Buffalo's lead 3:19 later with his first goal of the postseason, but not until a lengthy review confirmed it. Vanek jammed the puck inside the left post, but referee Kevin Pollock couldn't see it cross the goal line. The play was reviewed for several minutes before it finally was ruled a goal.

The Islanders responded in 74 seconds. Ryan Smyth made a blind pass from the corner to Hunter at the top of the crease. Miller stopped Hunter's first try but not the followup.

The Sabres had a five-on-three power play for two minutes when a Tom Poti high stick drew Maxim Afinogenov's blood for a double-minor and Marc-Andre Bergeron was called for slashing.

Briere struck inside a minute. He tried to pass through the crease to Drury for an open-net gimmie, but Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt broke up the play. Briere corralled the puck, fanned on a shot and then roofed one for his first goal in seven games.

New York refused to go away. Smyth tallied with eight ticks left in the second period to make the score 3-2. Isles center Randy Robitaille made a sweet saucer pass from the corner over Derek Roy's stick to Smyth at the far post for the redirection.

But the Sabres responded to open the third period. They outshot the Islanders, 8-0, for the first 5:10 and, 11-1, for the first 9:16.

"The first five minutes of the third period was going to be very important by giving up the goal we gave up at the end of the second," Ruff said. "Sometimes that hurts you and it takes a little while to recover, but I thought we came out focused and ready to play."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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