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Mair's grit adds bite to Sabres

Here's a little tidbit for any parent who thinks Little Johnny is prepping for the National Hockey League. Adam Mair once scored 16 goals in a single game when he was a kid. He averaged more than a point per game over his last two seasons in juniors and scored 40 goals in his first two seasons in the minors.

Naturally, people were surprised Monday night when Mair opened the scoring in Game Three against the New York Islanders. He had two goals and 11 points all season. He hadn't scored since Feb. 20, which broke a 38-game pointless streak. He hadn't scored a playoff goal since the Clinton administration.

Every year when the postseason rolls around, you hear Lindy Ruff talking about wanting the Buffalo Sabres to play out of character. But not when it comes to the gritty fourth-line center-winger-forechecker-fighter-leader. Mair is the one guy Ruff wants to stay in character.

Why? Because that's what wins in the playoffs.

"Often times, guys who don't hit are hitting, and guys who don't show up on the score sheet are scoring," Mair said Tuesday. "It's finding a place, finding a niche and accepting it and embracing it. I love my job in Buffalo. It's a role I relish."

There was a sense before the postseason began that Ruff kept Mair in the lineup as an act of loyalty. Actually, it was necessity. He's not the most skilled player on the roster, but good luck finding one with a bigger heart. The Sabres needed Mair because he competes with the requisite bite in his game, an element that often disappears from talented teams once they're challenged in the postseason.

Mair's goal in Game Three was merely a reward for adhering to his usual style. He flattened Trent Hunter in the Buffalo zone, flew down the middle and converted a pass from Chris Drury. In the first game, he made a similar play that allowed Tim Connolly to feed Brian Campbell for the series-opening score. It took skill to make both plays, but ultimately those are hustle goals.

"That's the value and why you have him in there," Ruff said. "It's hitting. He's a really good skater. He had a timely goal for us [Monday] night. He made a great play on the goal in the first game. You're looking at two goals in the series that he was a big part of. That's tough to replace. He's being himself."

The Sabres could put together a six-hour highlight reel from this season, but will almost always overcomes skill in crunch time. The Islanders have proved to be a game opponent in the first round. They're still in the series because they have enough Adam Mairs, but they're trailing because they have too many Alexei Yashins.

Ted Nolan was practically gushing over Mair after practice Tuesday. The former Sabres coach wished he had 20 players who were as honest and resourceful. Mair played eight minutes Monday and led the Sabres with five hits. He blocked a shot and had three shots on goal, equaling Yashin's output for the series. By the way, Mair makes $7 million a year less than the Islanders' pseudo captain and heartless stiff.

"He's very effective, and that's what we've tried to relay to our team," Nolan said. "It doesn't matter how much ice time you get. We want production when you get out there. Adam Mair is playing exceptionally well for them."

Mair couldn't wait for the start of the postseason after he missed all but three playoff games last year with a concussion. Like everybody else, he felt shorted.

Now, he's back doing what he does best at the most important part of the season. He's skating 100 mph, running over everybody in his path, doing whatever it takes to win. And he's reminding everyone that, once upon a time, he was a scorer.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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