Garden holds traps

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

BUFFALO -- The Sabres will be fighting two enemies this afternoon in their quest to reach the Eastern Conference final.

First, there's the New York Rangers, guaranteed to come out scrapping down 3-2 in the series with Henrik Lundqvist having surrendered just four goals at home. But the Sabres also will have to overcome the nuances of Madison Square Garden, "The World's Most Famous Arena," a potential minefield for visiting teams and a contributor to the Rangers' 4-0 record in these playoffs.

"I bet if they ever move, they'd like to take their boards and glass with them," Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller said jokingly yesterday as the Sabres held an optional workout.

JUST LIKE THE JOE

"Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is the same way. I used it to my advantage when I played there in college."

MSG has as many quirks as Fenway Park does for baseball, with its partitions causing weird bounces on wraparounds and making it tricky for a goalie such as Miller to clear pucks up ice. Then you throw in the mushy ice of May from the building's busy conversion schedule.

"It's unique," said Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, who once played defence for the Rangers. "Some pucks come out eight feet in front of the net and some keep going around the glass.

"But I'd like to improve our road play. If we can bottle what we did (in Game 5), I'll be happy."

The Sabres had 40 shots on Lundqvist to the Rangers' 23, but needed a Chris Drury goal with 7.7 seconds to play and an overtime strike by Maxim Afinogenov to pull out a victory.

"You looked at the clock (with 3:19 to play in regulation) and thought: 'Wow, this is unreal,' " Buffalo's Daniel Briere said. "We have twice as many shots as them and we're down 1-0. But you re-focus and try not to think of what will happen if we lose. It had to be the same feeling for all our guys. Once we tied it, I didn't think we were going to lose.

"We've been challenged a few times this year, so we're not afraid of collapse when a game or a season is on the line. The Rangers gave us a pretty good scare. It would be a whole different story if we lost last night, but this is huge for our mindset going into Game 6. The guys were still pumped this morning about what happened last night."

But there remains the matter of beating Lundqvist in his own barn, where the 'Henry, Henry' chants will have some extra decibels behind them this afternoon. Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi called the edgy, vocal MSG faithful "our seventh man."

Miller expects to hear a few barbs again.

"It will be a hard-fought game in a great venue," he said. "Henrik and I have had a few good battles."

The final three regular-season games between the teams were decided by a goal, as well as four of five matches in this series.


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