UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP)—The Buffalo Sabres’ big boppers are back and so is home-ice advantage.
Unheralded forward Adam Mair bristled at the notion that the high-flying forwards were ever missing.
Mair got Buffalo’s offense rolling with a rare goal before serious scorers Thomas Vanek and Daniel Briere finished off a second-period spurt that carried the Sabres to a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Monday night.
That was just enough offense to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead in the first-round, Eastern Conference playoff series. The Sabres split two games at home but only got two of their six goals from forwards.
“I didn’t even know that,” said Mair, who had two goals in the regular season. “We don’t really care who scores. We’re just focused on winning the game.”
He might not care, but if the top-seeded Sabres are going to build on their Presidents’ Trophy victory and make a run toward their first Stanley Cup title, they will need guys like Vanek, Briere and Chris Drury to score.
Drury was the only forward to do it for Buffalo at home in the series, netting two in the Sabres’ Game 1 win. Vanek and Briere, the club’s top two scorers during the season, joined the fun on Long Island.
“We want to see more offense from our forwards,” Briere said. “The first couple of games we were throwing a lot of pucks away but tonight we did a better job protecting the pucks.
“That’s the way we have to keep it going because these guys are tough and playing us hard.”
In other NHL playoff games, Tampa Bay edged New Jersey 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead, and San Jose topped Nashville 3-1 at home to grab a similar series edge in the only Western matchup Monday.
But the eyes of the NHL, including commissioner Gary Bettman, were on the Sabres who suddenly were in trouble after leading the league with 53 wins.
Buffalo scored an NHL-best 308 goals this season, including 112 by Vanek, Briere and Drury, and needed to flex its offensive muscle before the upstart Islanders gained too much confidence.
“We have depth of scoring throughout our lines that have kept teams a little bit on their heels,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We can get rolling, and it can come from any line at any time.”
You don’t have to look any further than Mair, who landed a hit shortly before a deft redirection off a feed from Drury. The Sabres scored all their goals in a span of 7:39 in the second period.
“We have to get back to basics and get the puck to the net,” said Smyth, who made it 3-2 with 8 seconds left in the second period. “It comes down to execution. It’s a long series. They’re a good hockey team.”
Game 4 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday on Long Island. Game 5 is back in Buffalo on Friday.
By the time the third period came, the Sabres regained control and outshot the Islanders 17-2 over the final 20 minutes while protecting a one-goal lead.
“We knew that the first five minutes of the third period was going to be very important after giving up the goal at the end of the second period,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “Sometimes those hurt you, but we came out focused and ready to play.”
Then they kept the Islanders at bay.
Rick DiPietro made 32 saves in his first home game in three weeks following post-concussion syndrome, but couldn’t help the power play that went 0-for-4 and is 1-for-11 in the series.
“Nobody took it away from us,” DiPietro said. “They came out hard in the third period and played a great period. You don’t want to go back to Buffalo down 3-1.”
When Randy Robitaille was whistled for tripping with 1:34 left, the white towels stopped waving and came flying down along with several beverages that left soda-colored stains on the ice.
“Our fans were pretty upset, too, they just didn’t throw stuff the other night,” Ruff said. ^Lightning 3, Devils 2=
Brodeur, who entered the playoffs with a 1.89 career goals-against average, has given up three goals in each game of the series. Tampa Bay also won three of four regular-season meetings against Brodeur, who won a league-record 48 games.
Game 4 is Wednesday night at the Shark Tank, with Game 5 back in Nashville on Friday.