BUFFALO (LGS) — Ted Nolan is back in Buffalo. So is Miroslav Satan. Tim Connolly began his career with the Islanders, as did Darcy Regier.
All of the storylines this matchup creates have been picked with a fine-toothed comb. But when the Buffalo Sabres step foot onto HSBC Arena ice Thursday (8 p.m. MSG-TV/WGR-AM) to face the New York Islanders in the first of seven possible meetings, all that matters is the win.
Nolan went nine years without a coaching job after being shafted by Buffalo months after winning the Jack Adams Award. But the first-year Islanders coach says he isn’t trying to rekindle old relationships.
“Let bygones be bygones,” Nolan said to the Associated Press. “Buffalo will always have a special place in my heart. But now we have to try to beat their hockey team.”
He’s going to have to do so without the use of his best goaltender, Rick DiPietro, for at least Game 1. DiPietro is unlikely to make the trip to Buffalo for Saturday's game, either, according to Nolan. Out since suffering two concussions last month, DiPietro will watch from back home as his team attempts to be giant-killers. Wade Dubielewicz will get the start for New York in his place.
Buffalo (53-22-7), in the meantime, has no problems with its goaltending. Ryan Miller enters the postseason riding a five-game personal winning streak since a 4-1 loss at Toronto March 24.
“If we play good hockey and play together and play with energy, we're nearly impossible to beat,” Miller said.
Miller became the first Buffalo goaltender to win 40 games in a season this year, including three against the Islanders.
The Sabres bring their balanced attack into the series, an attack that helped them secure the highest goal total of any team this season, as well as the Presidents’ Trophy.
Led by Thomas Vanek’s 43 regular-season goals and co-captain Daniel Briere’s 95 points, the Sabres are hoping to avoid the fate of three previous Presidents’ Trophy winners, including last year’s Detroit Red Wings.
“We want to make sure the confidence is there, but we want to make sure it's not overconfidence,” Briere told reporters this week. “We worked hard to get the No. 1 seed, and we want to use it to our advantage. We don’t want to blow it in the first game.”
The Sabres announced Tuesday that Adam Mair will play on the fourth line with Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford, giving young forward Daniel Paille a place in the press box. Mair played in all 82 games this season, scoring two goals and 11 points, while accumulating a team-high 128 penalty minutes.
Paille was most valuable to the team on the penalty kill while, where he averaged 1:50 of shorthanded ice time per game.
The Islanders (40-30-12) will look to play a familiar role of late – underdogs — because in their three previous playoff appearances, the team has been in the eight seed. In fact, New York’s last playoff appearance was in 2004, when they snuck into the playoffs beating out the Buffalo Sabres 0n the second-to-last day of the season.
They lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning that season.
The Islanders are led by Satan, Alexei Yashin and 40-goal scorer Jason Blake. Their most potent offensive weapon, however, is Ryan Smyth, acquired at the Feb. 27 trade deadline from Edmonton.
Smyth played an integral part in the Edmonton Oilers' defeat of top-seeded Detroit last season with his play in front of the net. Buffalo must shut him down to win.
Fun Fact of the Game:
For a series so rich in subplots, Lindy Ruff was a rookie on the 1980 Sabres team that faced the New York Islanders in the playoffs, the last time the two teams met in the postseason. The Islanders won the series. The Sabres are hoping the second time is the charm for Ruff.