Sabres solve Dubielewicz

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

BUFFALO - Wade Dubielewicz's 15 minutes of fame was long enough to eliminate the Maple Leafs.

Now it looks as if it will be Rick DiPietro's monumental assignment to upset the Sabres.

Not 10 minutes after the New York Islanders were beaten 4-1 by Buffalo in Game 1 of their series, they revealed their $67.5-million US goalie had been cleared from concussion problems and flown here from New York by private jet.

He will practice today and a decision will be made on starting him in Game 2 tomorrow. Yesterday was the all-important seventh day that DiPietro had been symptom-free after he suffered the second of two concussions in March. He watched some of last night's game as the top-seeded Sabres went into overdrive with three goals in the second half. They forced the Isles into momentum-killing penalties and held them to 21 shots, only one in the first period.

Dubielewicz, who helped oust the Leafs with four straight wins at the end of the schedule, could not be faulted last night on 35 shots. Chris Drury and defenceman Brian Campbell scored two goals apiece, each with a power-play goal, with Drury's second coming just a couple of ticks after Randy Robitaille exited the box.

"As late as the third period, one bounce could have changed things," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, not 100% pleased with what he saw over 60 minutes.. "But you know the other team is going to come out hard in the first game of the other team's building."

The Isles did the impossible at first, weighing down the Sabres and sucking much of the life from a sold-out (18,690) HSBC Center that had been gearing for playoffs for months.

They withstood a one-sided first period, which included that club playoff-record one shot on Ryan Miller, down just a goal.

The Isles also blocked shots and forced the Sabres wide. A few boos were detected after a pass was picked off and turned into a tying Arron Asham goal at 6:58 of the second. Perhaps the elder fan base knew the Sabres' record is 1-13 when losing the first game of a series.

One hockey publication, squeezed by deadlines, went to press without including the Isles in its 16-team playoff preview. A national sports radio show did a half-hour playoff pre-tape with a Buffalo reporter on Saturday, inquiring only about the Sabres playing the Leafs or Canadiens.

"Getting the eighth seed, no one outside this room thinks we can win," Dubielewicz said after the morning skate. "But we've played playoff hockey for a while now.

"I've got to be realistic about it. Everything fell into place for us to get here, but not every bounce is going to go our way through the whole playoffs."

DiPietro ended his regular season with a record of 32-19-9. "That's huge for them," Drury said of DiPietro's stick-handling and passing skills. "In a blink of an eye, the puck is gone to Jason Blake or Ryan Smyth.

"But (defence) is the first thing Lindy talks about every day and the last. We're serious about it."

The Sabres have been itching for this chance ever since injuries sank their chances to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in last year's Eastern Conference final. The President's Trophy winners have 53 victories, plus a league-leading 308 goals, the majority split among four 30-goal men.

"It's been a long time between playoff games for us," Campbell said. "It's fun going out there, trying to hit guys with the crowd screaming. You get a shiver down your whole body."

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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