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Stafford ends postseason goalless drought; Failure to finish chances costs Sabres

Drew Stafford felt he was getting enough chances and it was a matter of time before one would go in the net. It happened midway through the first period of Game Three Monday night and Stafford was certainly pleased with his first playoff goal since 2007.

But like the rest of the Buffalo offense, Stafford was left to rue missed chances as well. The Sabres had 37 shots on goal in their 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and didn't convert on a two-man advantage for 75 seconds early in the third period.

"They scored on their chances and we didn't," Stafford said. "They made a great tic-tac-toe kind of play on a breakdown [for Nikolay Zherdev's goal]. It's just them burying their chances and us missing a couple opportunites. We have to keep our compete level up and keep battling."

Stafford got more done in Game Three than the previous two games. And that's saying something because he led the Sabres with nine shots on goal in those contests. His goal came at 11:55 of the first period on a neat feed from Jason Pominville, as he fired a wrist shot past Brian Boucher.

"It's just a percentages thing. You keep shooting the puck, you get your percentage," said Stafford, a 31-goal scorer during the regular season. "It's just a matter of time before they start going in one way or another. I was trying to get pucks on net and Pommer made a good pass to me there. You get a good look in the slot like that, usually you have a couple spots to shoot.

"It felt pretty good to tie it up at that point but it's obviously a tough one to take at the end there."

Stafford, a healthy scratch at times during last year's playoff loss to Boston, had two goals in 10 playoff games for Buffalo as a rookie in 2006-07 and his last one was on April 25, 2007 in Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New York Rangers.

Stafford opened Tuesday's game with Tyler Ennis and Rob Niedermayer but the Sabres' lines got jumbled much of the night after Patrick Kaleta left with an upper-body injury early in the first period.

"We were kind of playing bingo with the lines a little bit," Stafford said. "Everyone's playing with everyone so we were just trying to get as much pressure as possible hanging around the net and throwing pucks on the net. Tonight might have been our best game as far as protecting the puck and working off the cycle. We just didn't convert."

The two-man advantage was particularly troublesome. The Sabres had some good chances but Thomas Vanek's tip went wide and Boucher took one to the mask off the stick of Tyler Ennis.

"We've got a couple set plays and got a couple good looks at it and just didn't execute," Stafford said. "It's just a matter of getting that chance again, you have to take advantage of it. We had one in one of the earlier games as well. We know special teams is huge in this series. We got one power-play goal but that five-on-three definitely hurt us.

"We did a good job coming back early and keeping it close but it was just mistakes. We had our chances."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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