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Kotalik sends message home with score

Ales Kotalik knows his family, friends and countrymen are paying attention to the Eastern Conference semifinals. He doesn't want to disappoint them.

He hasn't so far.

The Buffalo forward scored his first goal of the playoffs Wednesday night against the New York Rangers, helping the Sabres to a 5-2 victory in Game One in HSBC Arena.

Kotalik used his most dynamic weapon -- a blistering wrist shot -- to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead with 3:41 left in the second period. Adam Mair fed Kotalik a pass in the middle of the Rangers' zone, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist barely moved as the rocket soared over his right shoulder.
"I was right behind it, and that thing went shelf in a hurry," Mair said. "That's what he is. He's a great shooter."

Kotalik takes pride in his Czech Republic roots, so this is the perfect series for him. He was deeply disappointed last season when he wasn't picked for the Olympic team and was equally as ecstatic when he was added as an injury replacement. The Sabres-Rangers series is getting a lot of attention back home because of the number of Czech players involved. The Rangers have six and the Sabres have two.

"People in our country are watching it a little more because more guys are involved," Kotalik said. "The New York Rangers are pretty big and have a lot of fans in the Czech Republic, so it's always special playing them.

"I'll do everything I can to be a winner this series."

A trip to the most seldom-used line -- there's no reason to call it the fourth line anymore because it's so successful -- has boosted Kotalik's game. Part of the move was because the left winger was slumping with center Chris Drury and right wing Dainius Zubrus. But coach Lindy Ruff said he also wanted to make the switch because Kotalik has had success playing with center Tim Connolly.

The line of Connolly, Kotalik and Mair has shined, scoring in three of the four games they've been together. Mair has a goal and three assists this postseason, Connolly has four helpers and Kotalik has an assist to go with his goal.

"We don't consider ourselves a fourth line," Kotalik said. "Tim Connolly is one of the most skilled guys in the league when he's healthy, and Adam Mair, he's a great player. He can make great plays and supplies energy."

The Rangers had heard about the Sabres' depth in the days leading up to the series, and it didn't take long for Kotalik and Mair to help prove the rumors true.

"They showed their depth," Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. "It wasn't [Daniel] Briere or [Chris] Drury. It was some of their other guys, their secondary scoring guys. And they were sharp."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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