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BOOMING START Sabres finally solve the Lundqvist puzzle

No matter what the Buffalo Sabres created, no matter how many power plays they were given, no matter how many shots they took, Henrik Lundqvist remained perfect.

For nearly 35 minutes Wednesday night in HSBC Arena they harassed the New York Rangers goalie but couldn't get a single puck past him. The Sabres had zilch to show for so many wonderful chances as the Rangers, holding on for dear life, were called for penalty after penalty.

"You want to burst his bubble," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "The more saves he makes, the better he feels about himself. A big save is almost like scoring a goal. Sometimes that momentum goes the other way."

Then pop, pop, pop.

The Sabres scored three times on four shots late in the second period to blow the night wide open and cream the Rangers, 5-2, and take Game One of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Thomas Vanek tallied the first and third goals on the scoring spree that lasted 4:05. Ales Kotalik struck in between.

"We have a team that can smell blood sometimes," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said. "We were doing a lot of things right and finally got rewarded."

Jason Pominville scored with 6:13 remaining in the game, and Drew Stafford tacked on an empty-net goal to help ease any anxieties that may have built up through the Sabres' first-round performances in getting past the New York Islanders.

"We don't like that," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We want to stay away from the track meet. They're just too quick. Their transition game is excellent and they can score from any number of locations in their lineup."

The Sabres totally controlled the Rangers, whose best chance to get back into the game came with a five-on-three power play for a full two minutes 6:27 into the third period. The Rangers had four shots, but Miller stopped them all, including a glove snap on Brendan Shanahan to preserve Buffalo's 3-0 lead. Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman also blocked two shots.

"That was a great effort by us to hunker down, battle through," Miller said. "We had some good blocks. I thought that was a big point in that game. We want to show that we're going to work hard in every aspect."

Miller made 32 saves, turning away the first 29 shots he faced. Marcel Hossa broke up the shutout bid with 9:16 to play. Shanahan scored a power-play goal with 48 seconds left. Lundqvist made 32 saves.

Game One was scoreless after a raucous first period in which the Sabres displayed their speed and staggering playmaking ability. They registered 15 shots and would have scored a few goals if not for some sensational stops by Lundqvist.

"They're a good team, but we're first for a reason -- because we do what we do best and let them worry about our game," Sabres winger Dainius Zubrus said.

The Sabres wasted four first-period power plays and one more early in the second period. Deep into the second period, observers had to wonder when referees Don Koharski and Marc Joannette were going to start calling penalties against Buffalo, which by that point had logged 8:09 of power-play time to New York's nine seconds.

"We played pretty good, but it's still 0-0," Lydman said. "All they need is one chance and they might score on that and then you're chasing. That's why I thought it was really important to get that first one."

Buffalo finally scored on its next chance. Dmitri Kalinin took a point shot that Vanek redirected past Lundqvist from the slot with 5:41 to go in the second period.

From there the Rangers, who trailed for a grand total of 7:11 in their 240-minute first-round sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers, unraveled like a motel towel.

"We gave them momentum with all power plays we gave them," Shanahan said. "You don't like being down, 1-0, but certainly in hindsight when you're in the dressing room after the second period you're saying 'Geez, guys, 1-0 would have been a lot better than 3-0.' "

Exactly two minutes after Vanek scored, Kotalik had his first playoff goal. He split the defense and rifled a wrist shot from the right circle to finish a two-on-two rush with Adam Mair.

Vanek scored again 2:05 later, collecting the puck along the left boards and slithering around some defenders into the slot for a rising wrister.

"From how we attack as a team, we've had stretches during the year when we get one, we get two," Ruff said. "Sometimes we get three. We said, 'Let's keep attacking.' Even in the third period, with Pominville driving hard to the net, that was an important goal for us, too."

Joannette initially waved off Pominville's goal with 6:13 remaining because Pominville dislodged the cage in the process. A prolonged video review showed the puck glanced off his stick -- off a pass from Daniel Briere -- and crossed the line before he skated into the net.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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