BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—Enough with the negativity.
Tired of hearing the struggling Buffalo Sabres have lacked passion and offense while squandering a 2-0 playoff series lead against the New York Rangers, an animated coach Lindy Ruff was intent on putting a new spin on the series Thursday.
“I think everybody, maybe I’m including all of you (reporters), are looking at it like we should be a little bit down. There’s nothing to be down about,” Ruff said. “We’ve got a hell of a team. Geez, let’s get going again. Put the mind-set in the right place and put the aggression in the right place. Just go after it.”
That’s what his team will need to do Friday, when it hosts Game 5 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series tied at 2.
The coach was in a far livelier mood than he was Wednesday, the day after a 2-1 loss.
“I woke up and the sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day,” Ruff said. “That’s the attitude I came in with today.”
The top-seeded Sabres need a boost after two straight losses at New York during which they combined for two goals in more than 156 minutes and were thoroughly stifled by the Rangers.
The Rangers have newfound confidence but understand the series is far from over.
“I doubt we’ve got anyone on the run,” New York coach Tom Renney said. “We should feel awfully good about where we are, but never satisfied of course.”
“Maybe we’ve got the momentum right now,” added Jaromir Jagr, who has scored in each of the past two games. “But in the first minutes of the next game, it could change right away.”
The Rangers have been the better team for most of the last three games and would be up in the series had they not squandered two one-goal leads in a 3-2 loss in Game 2 at Buffalo.
Bouncing back from a 5-2 loss in the series opener, New York has scored the first goal in each of its past three games and has been very adept at containing Buffalo’s speedy forwards.
It’s a defensive system that worked in New York’s first-round series sweep of Atlanta, when the Rangers limited the Thrashers to six goals in four games.
And it’s a system—the Rangers collapse five players in front of their net at the first sign of trouble—the Sabres are intent on breaking.
“We’re always frustrated when somebody’s playing defense like that,” Sabres forward Ales Kotalik said. “Right now, we’ll try to give them a little different look.”
Ruff isn’t saying, but the different look the Sabres are expected to present is a series of new line combinations.
Kotalik and Tim Connolly might be playing with co-captain Daniel Briere after the trio proved effective in the third period Tuesday. Co-captain Chris Drury and winger Dainius Zubrus might have a new linemate, too. Then there’s Maxim Afinogenov, the speedy forward preparing to return to the lineup after he was benched for Game 4.
“Just ready to go,” said Afinogenov, held without a point in three games against New York, and knocked for creating too many turnovers. “I want to win. I want to help the guys.”
Ruff is seeking more aggressive play from his forwards in breaking through the tight-checking Rangers, who have been keen on stacking their blue line. Better production on the power play also would help a team that’s converted only 3 of 25 chances against New York.
“Flat out, we haven’t been very good,” Ruff said, referring to his power-play unit. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We’ve got to play better.”
The Rangers haven’t won in four trips to Buffalo, including two regular-season losses. The Sabres, 4-1 at home this postseason, have lost three straight games only three times during the regular season.
“You guys know how important this is,” Drury said. “I think you’re really going to see us focused tomorrow night.”