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Sabres dimmed by power shortage

There are two ways of assessing how productive the Buffalo Sabres have been on the power play this postseason.

The positive slant is that they've scored one man-advantage goal -- no more, no less -- in three straight games and five of their last six. The less flattering flip side is that they could be putting teams away emphatically, and certainly be up three games in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the New York Rangers, if they were operating at anything close to passable efficiency.

The Sabres were awarded nine power-play opportunities in Sunday afternoon's 2-1 double-overtime loss to the Rangers. They were blanked on eight of them, their lone success coming on Daniel Briere's goal with 7:46 remaining in regulation.

This was a game the Sabres could have put away early. At the least, it was a game they could have seized control of in the second period. Their inability to cash on the power play allowed the Rangers to continue feeding off the raucous Madison Square Garden crowd and ultimately restored their hopes of getting back to even when the series resumes here Tuesday.

There was no telling what to expect out of the Sabres' man-advantage units. Sometimes it was ugly as the Rangers stymied Buffalo's puck movement, kept the Sabres to the perimeter and blocked the long-range shooting lanes. The Sabres were held without a shot on their first extra-man opportunity, just 2:39 into the game, a time when they could have planted seeds of doubt among New York's boisterous faithful. They had all of one shot on their second and third of three straight chances in the second period after the Rangers were hit with penalties at 8:50, 11:01 and 14:08.

This isn't exactly breaking news. The Sabres were mediocre on the power play throughout the regular season, finishing 17th in the league in efficiency at 17.4 percent. They're 3 of 21 after the first three games of this series, having cashed just once in eight chances in the opener. They are numbers that defy explanation given Buffalo's wealth of offensive riches.

"A couple of them looked good where we were passing it around the perimeter, but we weren't really dangerous attacking the net," Briere said.

The Sabres had their power-play moments. They blitzed Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with five shots on the first of their second-period advantages. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek was free to tee it up from the high slot during a power play in the second overtime, requiring a solid save from Lundqvist and some desperate scrambling on the part of the Rangers as the rebound lay free. But what the Sabres need are more conversions, especially on the road, and particularly considering how little open ice New York's surrendering when the teams are skating five-a-side.

"It definitely needs to come, but are we going to bang our heads against the wall? No," Chris Drury said. "I don't think that's going to do us any good. I'm sure we'll have some meetings and probably work on it [today] or Tuesday morning."

"Early on we didn't get enough pucks to the net," Briere said. "That's how we [eventually] scored. And after that, on the last one, 'Spach' had a really good chance, a one-timer from the middle of the ice. Lundqvist made a good save. That's the kind of opportunities and that's the kind of plays we need to keep making. We have to throw more pucks at the net."

Cracking the combination won't be easy. The Rangers allowed just one power-play goal in their opening series against Atlanta, killing off all 15 Thrashers' chances over the final three games of their sweep. They've turned back 34 of 38 chances this playoff season.

"We have good penalty-killing depth in our lineup," said Rangers coach Tom Renney. "There were two guys I didn't get to tonight because I was content with how it was going. It ruins your confidence if you spend too much time on the penalty-kill, and that is when mental toughness come in."

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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