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Power-play goals hard to come by in series

Power plays continue to be a virtual non-factor in this series as the Sabres and Flyers came up empty on seven chances in Game Four and are a combined 5 for 40 in the series.

The teams have gone 0 for 5 on two-man advantages and the Sabres did virtually nothing after Mike Richards' five-minute elbowing major with three seconds left in the second period.

The Sabres seemed tight on that big chance as their passing and puck-handling was completely out of synch. On 13 different occasions, they got the puck into the Flyers zone and Philadelphia cleared it out. There was virtually no possession time in the offensive zone and the HSBC Arena fans were not happy about it.

"I wanted to boo too actually," joked coach Lindy Ruff. "Deep down, I'm going, 'Come on, make some plays.' "

"You're disappointed how the fans reacted on it," said Jason Pominville. "We still had a lead. That was the time we needed support a little bit. But at the end, we saw the reaction [to goaltender Ryan Miller's shutout]."

"You start with your best penalty killer as your goalie," said Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, who has logged 21 minutes of short-handed time the last three games. "Both goalies have made big saves after breakdowns."

The five-on-three was a major turning point in the third period of Game Three as Philly goalie Brian Boucher stopped a Tyler Ennis shot with his mask and then flipped the mask off to get a whistle. The Sabres never got the tying goal in an eventual 4-2 loss.

"The penalty-killers have been very good in this series with both teams being in lanes and blocking shots," said Ruff. "Stand pretty tight, being tough on entires. They've done a good job. Our guys have done a good job. We've scored a few five-on-four and there's a few things we looked at we think we can do a little bit better and I imagine they've done the same.

Coburn was a stalwart in Monday's game for Philly, logging 23 minutes, 15 seconds, blocking four shots and finishing with a plus-3 rating. He said the penalties are not much of a surprise, given what's going on around the league.

"Watching our games and some others, it seems like there's a crackdown on penalties," Coburn said. "The officiating has been good but it seems they've been told to call a lot of penalties and that's why you're seeing it. They're being told to call it tight. There's a lot of emotions and a lot on the line so that can tend to lead to a lot of penalties."

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Notes on Ryan Miller in the wake of his second shutout in the series:

He's the first NHL goalie to win a pair of 1-0 games in the same series since Calgary's Miikka Kiprusoff did it against Detroit in 2004. And that's the last time any NHL team won a pair of 1-0 games.

*In addition to joining Dominik Hasek and Bob Sauve as the only Sabres goalies with two shutouts in one series, Miller joined Sauve (1980, 1983) and Hasek (1994, 1999) as the only Sabres with two shutouts in an entire playoff year.

*Miller improved his stats in this playoff year to a 2.02 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.

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The Sabres entered Wednesday's game trying to overcome some negative history when they are behind in a series at any point. The Sabres have emerged from any deficit to win a series just three times.

In the best-of-three first round in 1976, the Sabres dropped the opener in St. Louis but rallied to overcome red-hot rookie Blues goaltender Ed Staniowski to win two straight at Memorial Auditorium, both in overtime.

Buffalo was in a 3-2 hole in the 1997 Eastern quarterfinals against Ottawa and won two straight, taking Game Seven on Derek Plante's overtime goal. In the '99 Eastern semifinals, the Sabres lost Game One at Boston but took the series in six.

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Sabres defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani entered Wednesday's games leading all NHL rookies in the playoffs in assists (4) and points (4). He was tied for the overall assist lead with five other players.

Gragnani is the only player on either team with points in the first three games of the series and is the first Buffalo rookie with points in his first three postseason appearances since Richard Smehlik in 1993.

Gragnani's locker was surrounded by television cameras, forcing next-door locker mate Nathan Gerbe to sit in Andrej Sekera's stall until he could get to his rightful place.

Asked a few minutes later about Gragnani's sudden rise, Gerbe said it's no surprise.

"Playing with him in Portland I knew what kind of D-man he was, how smart and skilled he was," Gerbe said. "You know as a player how good he is and to see him come up and have this success is awesome. He had a good crack at being here at the start but an injury [to his knee] in training camp set him back. It's good to see him fight his way back."

Sekera has not skated since getting hurt again in Game Two in Philadelphia but Ruff would not comment if his injury has morphed into something long term, insisting the defenseman is simply day to day.

Jochen Hecht and Shaone Morrisonn are also still not on the ice. Derek Roy continues to take skates with the team and work on drills and remains on target to play in the second round if the Sabres advance.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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