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Mair makes the most of minutes

Go ahead. Name somebody who's been better than Adam Mair minute-for-minute throughout this NHL postseason. Come up with another player who's done more with less ice time, if less is even possible.

Used to be that Mair was a member of the Sabres Secret Service, a rough-and-tumbler designated to watch the backs of teammates with status. Ottawa's Chris Neil sideswipes Chris Drury? It's Mair time. Toronto's Darcy Tucker starts taking liberties? There goes Mair over the boards to drop a sedative on the border villain.

And then every once in a while, about when you'd thought it would never happen again, Mair would find his way onto the score sheet, which is how he came to accumulate two goals and nine assists while appearing in all 82 regular-season games. Eleven points over, give or take, 1,000 shifts while playing with the league's highest-scoring team. It's not easy making Rob Ray look prolific.

So when Mair went off in Buffalo's first-round series against the Islanders, scoring one goal, setting up two others, who could help but think, "This is never going to last." He wasn't, as coaches like to say, playing out of character. More like playing out of body. Come on, now. Mair was feasting on seven to 10 minutes a game.

"I don't know how to explain it," said Daniel Briere. "It's one of those mysteries. But yeah, a lot of times those hard-nosed players, guys that have a role during the season that is not on the front line or not on the spotlight as much, have that knack to just step up and make big plays in the playoffs."

Mair was at it again Wednesday night in the opener against the Rangers, his newfound offensive flair no worse off after four game-less days. He pounced on a loose puck off a defensive-end faceoff and led Ales Kotalik on a two-on-two rush that put the Sabres on top, 2-0. Chew on these lines from Game One:

Mair: One assist and five hits in 7:54.

Jaromir Jagr: No points and five giveaways in 21:05.

What? You didn't expect that to be a key statistical match-up?

Dainius Zubrus thought he'd seen it all upon his March 2 arrival. Michael Ryan and Clarke MacArthur were up from Rochester at the time, filling in and producing. That the Sabres might have more latent firepower waiting to emerge was a notion behind comprehension.

"The balance of the offense on our team is like nothing I've ever experienced," Zubrus said. "Guys step up, and especially a guy like Adam. There's not really pressure on one line to be scoring goals. I think that's the strength of our team, every guy can make a difference."

"And it's more than just the points he puts up too," Briere said of Mair. "It's his physical presence. This is his time of year to shine, the type of game that he likes to play in, very intense. I think everybody needs guys like that on their team."

Mair defers all the credit. Look who's centering his line, he says. Look who's playing the other wing. How many fourth lines, so to speak, have one of the league's more creative players in the middle and a 25-goal scorer on the flank?

"It's pretty easy when you have a talented guy like Tim Connolly," Mair said. "He draws a lot of attention from defensive players. And obviously Al's a big body, a guy who can skate hard and finish his checks and has a great offensive weapon in his shot.

"I think we've found a little big of chemistry, especially down low, trying to cycle the puck and making plays. But when you go out with those players you're expected to do more than just get it deep and cycle the puck."

Maybe what Mair's saying is he's just been waiting to be unleashed.

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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