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Stafford shows he's more than a passing fancy

Drew Stafford was all over the place. He played on the first line, the third line, the fourth line and spent time in the dressing room.

And when the Buffalo Sabres needed the winning goal, Stafford was there, too.

Stafford made the best pass in Game Two of Friday's Eastern Conference semifinal, and Thomas Vanek made it count to give the Sabres a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers. The rookie winger has a flair for creating plays that make fans say, "Wow," and he continued Friday. He controlled the puck deep in the Rangers' zone and, with his back to slot, sent a pass through his legs onto the tape of Vanek's stick.

So, did Stafford see Vanek or just guess he'd be there?

"A little bit of both," Stafford said. "He's got the knack for being around the net, and when I took it around I saw he was coming. I didn't know exactly where he was, so I just threw it in an area there. I hoped he was there, and it worked out."

But, really, did the pass have to go through his legs, too?

"That was the only way," Stafford said with a grin. "I was watching Timmy [Connolly] do those in practice."

Stafford was on the ice with Vanek after playing with nearly everybody else. He started in his usual spot alongside center Chris Drury and right wing Dainius Zubrus. Then he went down to play with Connolly and Adam Mair. After a brief reunion with Drury, coach Lindy Ruff placed Stafford with Vanek and center Derek Roy.

"I just thought that with Staff's size down low, he could maybe hang on to a few more pucks, and it turns out we get the goal there," Ruff said.

The winner came just after Stafford had gone to the dressing room for a skate repair. The journeys from the top to the bottom to the hallway failed to faze him.

"Coach just wanted to mix things up, I believe," Stafford said. "He didn't really say anything. You've just got to be ready for whatever he calls out there.

"I was kind of all over the place, but you've got to be ready for it. You've got to be prepared and just play. We got the goal, so that's pretty cool."

Stafford is creating away from HSBC Arena, too. He's a fan of penne pasta and chicken, and he asked the folks at Chef's to prepare a meal the way he likes it. They did, and the result is an unadvertised dish with his name on it.

"I've kind of got my own special now," he said as out-of-town reporters came to his stall to rave about eating it.

There's no doubt Stafford has swallowed the Sabres' philosophy. He has watched how his teammates act and has modeled himself after them in his first season as a professional. It worked as he line danced.

"You look at the guys and the amount of skill and work ethic and character," he said. "There's no quit in here at all. No matter what kind of breaks we're getting, we're going to keep playing."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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