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Lorentz steps up in postseason

Play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret gets most of the attention for his excitable, catchy calls, but Jim Lorentz isn't too shabby, either, as the Buffalo Sabres analyst.

During the Sabres' four games to one playoff victory over the New York Islanders, Lorentz was network quality. He was on top of all the strategic moves being made by coaches Lindy Ruff and Ted Nolan.

In Game One, Lorentz quickly noted that Ruff was juggling his lines to give rookie Drew Stafford more ice time. In Game Two, he observed that Nolan demoted his much-maligned captain, Alexei Yashin, to the fourth line and reduced his ice time. In Game Three, he noted that the Sabres were finally capitalizing on the weakness of the Isles' defense, which he said the Sabres forwards should dominate. In Game Four, he noted that Ruff changed the Sabres' power-play alignment on the game-deciding goal.

If Lorentz has one obvious failing, it is his low excitement level. But with Jeanneret next to him, that can be overlooked because there could be such a thing as too much excitement.

If there is too much of one thing in the Sabres broadcasts, it is criticism of penalty calls. The one expression that Jeanneret may use as often as "top shelf, where mama hides the cookies" is "[fill in the Sabre name] is dragged down and NO penalty called."

A debris-throwing Islander fan would be shocked by how often the Sabres announcers cry over penalties. Jeanneret and Lorentz were more upset than Ruff was in his postgame press conference about the hooking penalty against the Sabres' Maxim Afinogenov that led to the Isles' winning goal in Game Two.

"The referee bought that one," Jeanneret said.

"I thought it was a great backcheck," Lorentz added. A few minutes later, Lorentz was aghast when "no penalty was called" after Sabres forward Jason Pominville was hit from behind.

In the Sabres' Game Four victory, Lorentz said the Isles' Jason Blake "embellished" a hit from behind to get a boarding penalty on the Sabres' Teppo Numminen. After the game, Nolan suggested Numminen got off easy.

This isn't to say that Lorentz is a complete homer. He has often given the Islanders their due, crediting goalie Rick DiPietro for being the best player in Game Two and praising the Islanders for their effort in their two home losses.

Lorentz also has been critical of some Sabres misplays, notably criticizing Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere for taking a lazy penalty in Game Two and Derek Roy for a careless giveaway in the Sabres' Game Three victory.

The comment that Lorentz made in the first four games that may have startled the team's optimistic fans came in the first period of Monday's 3-2 Sabres victory.

"Buffalo should be eating this [Islander] defense up and that's what they did on this shift," Lorentz said. "Buffalo needs hard forechecking if they are going to win this series."

Yes, he actually said "if." He understands that there is no guarantee that the best team in a series will win.

It is hard to believe that it has been so long since Dominik Hasek played here that local fans have forgotten that hockey is one sport in which one player -- the goalie -- can determine who wins.

Perhaps fan overconfidence has led to the surprisingly low ratings for the first four games of the series on MSG, the only channel carrying them. They averaged about a 10.5 rating. That's about half of what "American Idol" gets and significantly lower than many popular network series.

Of course, the 10.5 rating would be impressive in most cities and the rating doesn't take into account all the fans who are watching in sports bars. One local researcher also believes MSG's ratings have been artificially low all season.

The ratings are low enough to make you wonder about all the stories about Sabres fever that have aired on local TV news as each station tries to be the team's biggest cheerleader.

Channel 4 gets the award for going to the greatest lengths to show its support. The station is actually promoting a Web site poll asking if boyish sports anchor Dennis Williams should keep his playoff beard.

We all should agree that Williams and Channel 4 deserve a two-minute penalty for its silly attempt to hook viewers.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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