Two teams must get grittier

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

In the jargon of the day, eco-supremo Al Gore wants everyone to feel guilty about leaving behind too big a 'footprint.'

But the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils, who used to wear the muddiest work boots in the National Hockey League, aren't leaving much trace of anything near the sensitive blue zone of the opposition's crease. Dropping a few more skate tracks would help the survival of both clubs in the coming days.

In the case of the Devils, the Ottawa Senators have done an effective job keeping them to harmless outside rushes. Goalie Ray Emery still seems to have a case of the yips on some Jersey attacks, but with Anton Volchenkov absorbing puck-shot like he's eating breakfast muesli, the Sens are in command, 3-1.

The Sabres started their series against the Rangers on the right note, a 5-2 win after drifting in and out of consciousness against the Islanders in Round 1.

Since then, they have just five goals in the knotted series and not just because Henrik Lundqvist has been a pain in the other net. Their vaunted four-line offence lost steam at Madison Square Garden.

Coach Lindy Ruff told reporters yesterday the real Sabres will stand up tonight and in Game 6 on Sunday.

"I told them, 'There hasn't been an ounce of quit in you guys all year long, not one'. They've answered every challenge.

"We've been battling through some obstruction getting in the zone. I don't necessarily think that we should have to battle through arms reaching out and stuff like that. But it's stuff we have battle through."

But Ruff is beating the drum to get rugged forward Paul Gaustad back on the ice after three months recovering from a severed tendon above his left ankle.

Ruff already replaced Maxim Afinogenov with Daniel Paille, after Afinogenov's fancy-skating Lippizaner stallion put little fear in the Rangers in the first three games.

SPREADING THE NEWS

The Rangers could use a long run deep into May to make up for eight years without a playoff win, at great cost to their prestige on the Manhattan sports scene. The Rangers-Atlanta Thrashers series barely registered and Sunday's NASCAR race at Talladega beat their Game 3 win over Buffalo in the ratings.

"Buffalo is a good team. but when the Rangers do well, it's good for NHL exposure," a league executive said yesterday.

"It's a domino effect. Wall St. takes notice and then celebrities take notice. The amazing thing is that they missed the playoffs for so long and yet the crowds kept coming. To their credit, they made a strong impression in the community (in the lean years)."

PLAYOFF BANTER

The Stanley Cup tournament isn't half complete and it's the first week of May. No wonder commissioner Gary Bettman is wary of sending the Cup winner to Europe in September as part of an IIHF plan to pit league championship clubs against each other ... NBC commentator Brett Hull on what to expect in Buffalo should he be assigned to a Sabres' game on-site: "A hostile reception indeed," chortled the Golden toe-in-the-crease Brett ... The St. Louis Blues are not in the playoffs, but have more than 10 of their players spread among teams at the world hockey championships ... When you're involved in as many one-goal games as netminder Martin Brodeur and the Devils, pulling the goaltender is an integral part of your playbook. The Devils successfully tied the score a league-record seven times in the regular season with a sixth attacker and so far in the Ottawa series, have done it once for a goal, once without and been scored upon when the Sens yanked Emery ... The value of having an ex-goalie on the broadcast crew: Hockey Night's Greg Millen knew right away that Brodeur's refusal to wear modern shoulder pads was the reason a routine shot gave him a stinger in Game 4 ... A hundred years ago in 1907, the Kenora Thistles, using Art Ross as a ringer, became the smallest town to win a Cup when they beat the Montreal Wanderers in a two-game series ... Drew Stafford of the Sabres is one of a small handful of players who was born in Milwaukee. His father Gord played for the Admirals, but the family was from Banff, Alta.


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