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N.Y. state of mind: depression Big loss to Sabres disappoints Rangers

The Buffalo Sabres did more than defeat New York in Game One of their playoff series. They helped make the Rangers feel bad about themselves. The Blueshirts had been thoroughly enjoying hockey the past two months, so applying a dose of depression might have been an even bigger victory for Buffalo.

How the Rangers handle their humbling could decide which team feels better tonight after Game Two in HSBC Arena.

The Rangers were dealing with more than a 1-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday. They had to adjust to a 5-2 loss -- their worst since a 6-1 setback to New Jersey on Dec. 17 -- and they admittedly were having problems with it.

"There was big disappointment in our room this morning before our meeting," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "You could really sense the disappointment there. Again, with all due respect to Buffalo, I just think that our guys felt we really needed to be better, and we weren't. We, as much as anything, cost ourselves the hockey game. I think there was major disappointment to that end.

"But you know what? You've got to grow up in a hurry in these short series, and you've got to understand it is the first team to four, and we've only played one. It's far from over. I think the guys got their heads around that as we progressed through the day."

Both teams knew what they wanted to fix at practice Thursday, but the Sabres' list was much shorter:

*They want a better start. The Rangers had a scoring chance just 26 seconds into the game, and Buffalo didn't get momentum until the Rangers started streaming to the penalty box.

*They want fewer turnovers. The forwards had 11 giveaways.

That was about it.

And the Rangers?

Stop taking penalties. They had eight, and only seven stops by the penalty killers prevented a bigger rout.

"We haven't played like that for a while, and we can't afford to, obviously," center Matt Cullen said. "We can't be in the box all night because we have our best players sitting on the bench and their best players are on the ice."

*Stick with the game plan despite a deficit.

"I felt like we started panicking a little bit when we got behind," Rangers right wing Jaromir Jagr said. "You cannot do that against a team like Buffalo. That just plays to their cards."

Use all four lines. A 3-0 deficit and the time spent killing penalties skewed the shift chart, but the Rangers still have to get more equal production. Jagr and Michael Nylander topped 20 minutes; five other forwards had 11:30 or less, including three under 7:43.

"I'm comfortable with our depth now that we can be a four-line team," Renney said. "If you fall behind it's a little different story, and that's what happened [Wednesday] night. You can push pucks across the net with your fourth line possibly, but it's your other two lines that are going to probably do the scoring for you, in our case maybe even three."

Cheer up.

"That's the one thing you learn in the playoffs," Cullen said. "You can't carry that with you, and you've got to deal with the adversity and put it behind you as soon as you can."

The Sabres were nothing but happy. They wanted to turn the series into a track meet, and a 37-34 shot total proves they did. They used all four lines, just like they wanted. They got key saves from Ryan Miller on those occasions when the system broke down.

And they put a little doubt in the Rangers' heads. They want to make sure they keep it there tonight by mimicking their performance in Game One.

"It was frustrating because I didn't feel like we were being outplayed," Rangers right wing Brendan Shanahan said, "but bit by bit they showed why they won the Presidents' Trophy."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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