BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—Call them the new and improved Ottawa Senators.
Showing poise and resilience in withstanding the Buffalo Sabres’ two-goal comeback, the Senators further shed their label as postseason underachievers to get a jump on their rivals.
Where in the past they might have wilted, the Senators scored three times in the third period for a 5-2 win on Thursday night in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.
“That’s the major difference of this team from maybe the teams in the past,” said Jason Spezza, who had a goal and assist. “We’re more experienced. We’re not as nervous in the room before games. We’re a little more comfortable. We’ve all gone through this before. The second time around is a little easier.”
The win boosted the Senators’ record to 9-2 this postseason, and helped erase the lingering memories of last year when Ottawa was eliminated in five games by Buffalo in a second-round series.
“We learned a lot through last year’s playoffs, and I think it’s helped us this year,” forward Dany Heatley said. “I think you saw guys not getting rattled tonight, staying calm and having confidence that we could go into the third and win the game.”
The Senators have yet to show signs of slowing down, a considerable switch for a team making only its second conference finals appearance despite reaching the playoffs 10 consecutive years.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is at Buffalo on Saturday. Ottawa has never won the first two games of a series.
The roles are suddenly reversed, because the Sabres looked nothing like the team that won an NHL-leading 53 regular-season games. Buffalo was outshot 34-20, including 10-5 in the third period, and generated few threats in going 0-for-5 on the power play.
“We’ve got to do better,” Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. “I have a lot of confidence in our guys and our ability to score, and our ability to get more than 20 shots in a game.”
The loss was Buffalo’s most lopsided since a 4-0 defeat to Carolina in Game 4 of last year’s conference finals. And the Sabres continue to endure uncharacteristic lapses, committing 19 turnovers—two that led directly to Ottawa goals.
“Was it nerves? Maybe they got a little bit rattled,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “I don’t know, but we had some guys who played uncharacteristically, and gave up the puck.”
McAmmond set up Saprykin’s goal when he intercepted Teppo Numminen’s blind clearing pass at the left boards.
McAmmond added an empty-netter, and captain Daniel Alfredsson also scored for Ottawa.
Maxim Afinogenov and Toni Lydman, who tied the game at 2 midway through the second period, scored for the Sabres. History is suddenly against Buffalo, a team that’s lost 13 of 14 best-of-seven series when they drop Game 1. The Sabres had a four-game, home-winning streak snapped.
Ryan Miller remained upbeat, noting how the Sabres rallied to tie.
“We can’t be too disheartened,” said Miller, who allowed two goals on the first four shots, but finished with 29 saves. “We battled back and we did have moments where we played really well.”
Buffalo continued its stretch of inconsistent postseason play, failing to build on the momentum after winning two straight to eliminate the New York Rangers in Game 6 on Sunday.
Ottawa advanced in the first two rounds by beating Pittsburgh and New Jersey, losing only once in each series.
“It’s a confidence thing,” said Ray Emery, who stopped 18 shots. “Eventually, with the skill we have and the team we have, we come out on top more often than not.”
Emery’s best save came with the score tied early in the third, when he got his shoulder up to stop Adam Mair’s snap shot. Emery also got a big assist from defenseman Anton Volchenkov, who blocked Daniel Briere’s shot from the slot in the second.
The Senators went 2-for-6 on the power-play. … Heatley had an assist to extend his point streak to seven games, in which he has 12 points (four goals, eight assists). … The Sabres have allowed 10 power-play goals in opponents’ last 36 opportunities. … Of Fisher’s nine career playoff goals, three have been short-handed.