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Miller makes some heady plays

UNIONDALE -- Ryan Miller had his head in the game.

The Buffalo Sabres goaltender was a marked man in the first period of Monday night's 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders in Game Three of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Miller took two hard shots off his mask, summoning medical attention right after each.

"It was just a matter of not being able to get the hell out of the way. I was just stuck," Miller said. "You either take it off the head or surrender a goal. I couldn't get my glove around on either of them.

"It's modern hockey. You figure equipment's going to help, but those didn't feel too good."

Sabres athletic trainer Tim Macre twice trotted across the ice to tend to Miller after shots cracked his noggin.

Andy Hilbert fired a snap shot that struck Miller in the forehead and set him on his rear 2:03 into the game.

Arron Asham drilled a one-timer off Miller's head with 4:26 left in the period.

"Obviously, I think they were shooting at his head," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said with a smile before making a theatrical throat clear. "They hit him twice, so they must be shooting at his head. There are times you shoot at a goaltender's head, try to rattle him. I thought maybe after two in a row . . ."

Miller made 18 additional saves by more conventional means. He said he never considered coming out of the game after either blast.

"I gave myself a chance to see how I felt," Miller said. "I know the difference in when I can and can't play. I felt good. I felt aware. So I continued."

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Islanders coach Ted Nolan was none too pleased with the officiating -- both on and off the ice -- in Game Three.

Thomas Vanek was credited with a goal 8:38 into the second period after a lengthy video review. Vanek tried to jam the puck inside the post, and Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro smothered the view of the puck.

"They get a five-on-three opportunity to score and they get another goal that on all our camera angles were inconclusive -- unless the National Hockey League has another angle that we didn't see," Nolan said. "We didn't think that was a goal."

Nolan also questioned a sequence in which simultaneous penalties were called on the Isles, including one to defenseman Tom Poti for a high-sticking double minor on Maxim Afinogenov that gave the Sabres a five-on-three power play for a full two minutes.

Sabres center Daniel Briere scored the eventual winner within the first minute the five-on-three.

The Nassau Coliseum crowd of 16,234 went ape, raining debris on the ice and delaying the game for several minutes, when Islanders center Randy Robitaille was called for tripping with 94 seconds to play.

An NHL source said linesman Brad Lazarowich was struck under the eye by a coin that was thrown from the stands.

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DiPietro has watched this scene evolve before. He has been involved in one previous playoff series, making it into the 2004 dance as the eighth seed, losing Game One and then stonewalling the Tampa Bay Lightning to break serve and head back to New York tied at a game apiece.

The Islanders lost that series in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champs. The experience left him stoic about the Isles chances at home against the Sabres in Games Three and Four.

"We were an eighth-place team coming into the playoffs against a No. 1 seed that was a powerful, fast, offensive team," DiPietro said of the Lightning. "We probably could have been up, 2-0, coming back home, but you learn that no matter how many games you win it's a long series. It's a grind, and if you don't bring your best you're not going to win."

DiPietro had efficient numbers in that series. He had a 2.18 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. His lone win was a shutout.

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A moment of silence was held before the game to honor the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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