The Buffalo Sabres posted the NHL's best regular-season record with speed, skill and depth.
Co-captain Daniel Briere mentioned another element the Sabres have been able to feed off: contempt.
Briere noted a healthy disdain for the New York Islanders has contributed to their 3-1 series lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
"I think the first couple games there wasn't enough emotion. There was no hate out there," Briere said after he drew an aggressive penalty that led to Chris Drury's winning goal in a 4-2 Game Four victory Wednesday night in Nassau Coliseum. "I think slowly we're starting to see guys hate each other. We're getting sick of playing against the same guys over and over.
"The first couple games everybody was nice to each other. Now there's more emotion out there, and that's to our advantage. With our team, when you get guys mad, we're pretty explosive. I think it's a good thing."
Islanders fourth-liner Richard Park was called for interference after he and Briere skirmished at the end of the first period.
"We were going at it," Briere said. "He gave me a couple shots. I gave him a shot back. He just came at me when the period was over and ran me over. It's just things that happen."
Drury converted the power play 39 seconds into the second period to give the Sabres a 3-2 edge. He mentioned the significance of capitalizing on a new sheet of ice in a building where the puck has been bouncing.
"We wanted to make sure we got momentum off it," Drury said of the Park penalty. "A fresh sheet is always nice. I wouldn't say the ice is bad; it's just playoff ice. It's raining out. It's hot. There's a lot of people here. But when you get the good ice at the start of the period, you want to take advantage of it the best you can."
The series was tied at one game apiece when it headed to Long Island three days ago. The Sabres would have been OK with a split but were ecstatic to swipe Games Three and Four. They can eliminate the Islanders in HSBC Arena on Friday night.
"They had taken over home-ice advantage in our building, and for us to come here and win two. . . . It's not that it was unexpected, but it was a tough task," Briere said. "We thought if we could split we were in good shape."
Twenty years to the day he scored in the fourth overtime to give the Islanders a victory over the Washington Capitals in the Patrick Division semifinals, Pat LaFontaine returned to Nassau Coliseum -- this time as a guest of Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano.
LaFontaine, who resigned his position in the tumultuous Islanders' front office before the season, watched Game Four from Golisano's suite.
LaFontaine spent seven seasons on Long Island before joining the Sabres before the 1991-92 campaign.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff raised a few eyebrows at Wednesday morning's skate when he said Tim Connolly would be a game-time decision.
"He's just sore in a lot of different places just from playing," Ruff said.
Connolly was held out of Tuesday's practice, and some wondered after Ruff's comments if the concussion-prone center had gotten hurt when Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt delivered a big check in Game Three.
But any doubts about Connolly's availability were erased by the Baldwinsville native. Seated in his locker stall while his would-be replacement Paille was going through an extended workout on the ice, Connolly said he would play in Game Four.
"I actually felt really good," Connolly said Wednesday afternoon. "I don't really feel much at all. I feel fresh and ready to go."
Connolly indicated he was pleased with how his body reacted to Witt's hit.
"He might be their most physical player," Connolly said. "It was a good hit. It was good to get out there and get bumped and still be able to come back and perform."