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Drury's heroics in playoffs deserve big contract payoff

Empty the vault immediately if that's what it takes. If the New York Islanders are dumb enough to dump $7.6 million per season on Alexei Yashin's lap for doing nothing for five seasons, the Buffalo Sabres are intelligent enough to do the same for Chris Drury.

Give him whatever he wants. Company car? Chris, take your pick. Everybody else can drive Pintos. Country club membership? Augusta National could use a fine fellow like him. How about Air Force One for private use? He's already the key to the franchise, but how about keys to the city?

The Sabres could shower him with extras if they thought it would keep him around when his contract expires after this season, but all the guy really wants is to keep winning. And if he keeps playing the way he has been in the postseason, it's going to continue.
The Islanders woke up this morning thinking they were jobbed after having another goal go against them. They might as well stop resisting, put out their cigarette and take the lonely walk down the plank. Their playoff fate appears all but certain now with Buffalo going home with a two-game lead and one win from clinching.

Ted Nolan can blame the refs if it makes him feel better, but the real reason his team is in deep trouble this morning is that the Isles haven't stopped Drury. Really, was anybody surprised Drury scored the winner in a 4-2 victory over the Islanders in Game Four while Yashin was shut out yet again?
Let's face it, officials in Toronto merely avoided what was inevitable. Had they given the Islanders the goal with 1:42 remaining, Drury would have completed his hat trick with the overtime winner. He has more playoff winners than anybody else on the Sabres has playoff goals. His second goal in Game Four was his second winner in the series, giving him 14 among his 39 career playoff goals.

And he looks like he's just getting warmed up. OK, Chris, how about 13 more between now and, say, June?

Why certain players have a knack for scoring the big ones is one of sports' great mysteries, but it's definitely not a coincidence. Drury selflessly guessed he happened to be in the right place at the right time.
"It's not something I set out to do when the game starts, and it's not something I set out to do when the game is going on," Drury said. "I don't really know."

Perhaps the best explanation for the puck finding him when his team needs it most is because he's prepared for greatness. And that's not a guess.
Truth be known, Dainius Zubrus was searching for Daniel Briere early in the second period when he wheeled behind the net and threw a backhanded pass out front. Drury expected the puck to be coming his way. He was ready when it sifted through the sticks and legs and landed on his forehand. Rick DiPietro stopped the initial shot but was helpless for the rebound.
"I watched him enough and knew how good of a player he was," Zubrus said. "I realize now how much more he's a player, a leader. So far in the playoffs, he's definitely our big guy. He doesn't stickhandle around six guys to score a goal. He knows where to be to score big goals, and he does it over and over."
The Islanders have been worthy first-round opponents and deserve the respect they were desperately craving. The two games in Nassau Coliseum could have gone either way, but New York didn't come through in the clutch. The Isles have scored one third-period goal in the first four games of the series.
Frankly, I'm not sure why Islanders fans continued pelting officials with debris after the game. If they were watching the series, they would be chucking beers at Yashin. He's now gone four games without a point, just like during Buffalo's sweep over Ottawa in 1999. He's indifferent about winning while Drury will accept nothing less.
And that's the difference.

Buffalo shifted for the better the minute he arrived, and it has been going in the right direction for the past three seasons. Drury is the one player who could pocket franchise-player money without his teammates thinking twice, ironic because his team-first commitment is what makes him so good in the first place.
Humbleness has nearly become extinct in professional sports nowadays, but Drury doesn't even talk about himself when he's talking to himself. In fact, his least-favorite subject is Chris Drury. He's never been comfortable in the spotlight, odd considering how much time he spends there. But he's never about the past, only the future.
"There's always a next shift, a next period, a next game, and that's what my focus is on," he said in a hushed tone in the Sabres' dressing room. "See you in Buffalo."

See what I mean?

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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