Fourth-liners take spotlight

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

BUFFALO -- They sat together on the bench, shoulder to shoulder, and they thought, and said, the same thing.

The Senators' fourth line of Christoph Schubert, Dean McAmmond and Oleg Saprykin was on the ice for a first-period goal by Buffalo Sabres forward Maxim Afinogenov, a goal that allowed the Sabres to start a comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

You can imagine what the fourth line was thinking.

They wanted to get that one back, right?

"No," corrected McAmmond afterwards, "it was 'we're going to get that one back.' "

They did in the third after Senators coach Bryan Murray showed unwavering confidence in that fourth line.

McAmmond jumped on a turnover in the Sabres zone and fired a puck at the Buffalo net. Saprykin got his stick on it and the Senators had a 3-2 lead on their way to their 5-2 win in the opening game of the Eastern Conference final.

The matchup of the fourth lines in this series has the potential to be a tipping point.

There are not many teams in the NHL with a 34-goal scorer on its fourth line.

The Sabres are such a team with Jason Pominville, the hero of last year's win over the Senators, on the fourth line here now with Paul Gaustad and Adam Mair.

Buffalo's fourth line helped the Sabres overcome a 2-0 deficit last night with Pominville winning a faceoff against Ottawa's Jason Spezza, allowing defenceman Toni Lydman to jump down the boards, cut to the net and slip the puck past Senators goaltender Ray Emery.

After being scored upon early in the game, some coaches might not have gone back to their fourth line.

But Senators coach Bryan Murray came back with the fourth line almost right away, sending a significant message to them and to Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, that he would not be afraid of making it a four-line game.

SHOWED CONFIDENCE

"He showed confidence in us," said McAmmond.

"That's the way it's been. I'm not saying we're unsung heroes. I'd say we know we're a good part of the team. Bryan's really giving us a chance by giving us a lot of ice as a fourth line."

It's not just playing as a fourth line that makes the three of them so valuable at this time of year.

McAmmond did a marvellous job with the penalty killers, helping frustrate the Sabres and their fans as Buffalo went 0-for-5 on the power play. He played more than 14 minutes last night, 3:05 shorthanded.

Schubert is always available to drop back and kill penalties when a Senators defenceman is sent off and he chipped in 1:05 short-handed last night.

Saprykin, the trade deadline pickup who went into the lineup when Patrick Eaves went out with a head injury in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, also pulled a couple of shifts last night with Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.

He moved up onto that line to spell Daniel Alfredsson after the captain had expended energy on the penalty-killing unit.

Then, when they had their chance to make a difference, they didn't make a mistake.

Last night's start was a disaster for the Sabres and continued their tendency to play in spurts this post-season.

Sabres forward Daniel Briere said he thought his club had something on which to build coming out of the Rangers series.

"What I'm excited about is the way we finished the series against the Rangers.

SOMETIMES 'SO-SO'

"I think everybody agrees that we'd played well at times before those last two games, but also hadn't played well at times," he said. "I think there's a stretch where we were excellent, but there are other times we were so-so."

Ruff said he has liked the way his team has battled out of some tight situations.

"We've battled through some real good situations. We've been up against it a couple of times and I think being a pretty young team for the most part, we've been able to respond when things haven't gone well, gone well inside games."

The Sabres were definitely so-so again last night, but they are simply too good a team to not to be able to generate chances.

Yes, the Sabres have a fourth line with a 34-goal scorer.

The Senators' fourth line had a total of 37 goals this season.

But the Senators are up one after Game 1 in this series and this morning, that is all that matters.


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