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Call waiting: Nolan whistles unhappy tune

UNIONDALE -- New York Islanders coach Ted Nolan learned a few things during his years in Buffalo. For instance: the convenience of playing the woe-is-us card.

Nolan on Tuesday stole a card out of the Western New York sports deck and bemoaned the lack of justice his Islanders have received through the first three games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against his old team, the Buffalo Sabres.

"Certain teams get certain breaks, and that's life," Nolan said. "Certain people get breaks in life, and certain people don't. We're that group right now. We're not going to get any breaks."

Fans at the other end of the Empire State -- those who've endured Wide Right, No Goal, a team bankruptcy and about 42 defensemen going down with injuries during last season's playoff run -- would be agog at the notion.

"We've come a long ways, haven't we?" Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said of Nolan's remarks. "We've come a long ways."

Nolan was upset over several calls and noncalls that helped the Sabres win, 3-2, and take a one-game lead in the best-of-seven series. Game Four takes place tonight in Nassau Coliseum.

Nolan said he still hadn't seen a conclusive replay on Thomas Vanek's second-period goal and questioned a high-sticking double minor on Tom Poti that gave the Sabres a five-on-three power play that decided the game later in the period.

"They definitely could have got more calls, but I'm telling you right now, and I went through every inch, we could have got as many or more calls," Ruff said. "Players going to the net with sticks on them, getting dumped. . . . I'm with him. There could have been more calls. There could have been a lot more calls on them, too."

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Islanders winger Ryan Smyth gave them a bodacious opportunity to tie the game in the third period when he scored with eight ticks left in the second to make it 3-2. But the Sabres regained total control and outshot the Isles, 17-2, in the final frame.

Nolan was asked if he was surprised his team didn't offer more in the third. He all but raised a white flag with his response.

"I'm not surprised," Nolan said. "I think we gave what we have. We didn't not try and we didn't play just to play. We gave what we have to give. Usually with this team we're happy with what we got."

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Islanders center Mike Sillinger has dominated Sabres co-captain Chris Drury in the faceoff circle.

In a battle between two of the best in the business, Sillinger has won 73.7 percent of their head-to-head draws. Sillinger won 11 of 13 in Game Two and 10 of 13 in Game Three.

"Chris Drury's a fantastic faceoff guy," Sillinger said. "I've taken a majority of my faceoffs against him, and I think more times than not I've caught him on my strong side. We're both right-handed shots, so when I'm on my strong side I think I have a little advantage."

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The Sabres excused center Tim Connolly from Tuesday's practice in Nassau Coliseum to rest. Connolly has a goal and three assists in his five games back after his 11-month absence.

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Nassau Coliseum's dreadful reaction to an Islanders tripping penalty with 94 seconds left in Game Three remained a hot topic the morning after. Fans pelted the ice with beer bottles and other trash.

"It must be cheaper in our building," Ruff said of the wasted beer.

Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt backed away from criticizing the officials for the call on Randy Robitaille that disarmed an extra attacker attempt.

"It's tough to swallow, especially with a minute and a half left in the game," Witt said. "Then I saw the replay. It was questionable, but the referees are going to make their calls. I understand."

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It's plainly evident Nolan is dismayed by the lack of impact from captain Alexei Yashin. Nolan's words indicated he's not expecting much from Yashin anymore either.

Nolan was asked if he was satisfied with the way captain Yashin responded to being dropped to the fourth line in Game Two. Yashin had two shots in 10:07 of ice time in Game Three.

"Any time you're unsuccessful, you're not happy with a lot of things," Nolan said, "but he did what he could do."

***

Now starting in goal for the Sabres, Navin R. Johnson.

Ruff said he thought of Steve Martin's character in "The Jerk" when Ryan Miller got drilled twice by shots to the head during the first period of Game Three.

"It was sort of along the lines of that Steve Martin movie where they're shooting at the oil cans," Ruff said. "That's exactly what I was thinking."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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