“For whatever reason, pucks seem to find people like Chris,” Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said after Drury scored twice to help the top-seeded Sabres beat the New York Islanders 4-2 on Wednesday night for a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville also scored, and Ryan Miller made 24 saves in his second straight victory on Long Island. The win moved the NHL regular-season champions into position to end the series Friday night in Buffalo.
“We feel pretty good, but know there’s still a long way to go,” Drury said.
Jason Blake and Mike Sillinger scored for the Islanders, and Rick DiPietro stopped 27 shots in his third start since returning from a concussion.
“We have to come out and play a great game Friday night.” DiPietro said. “They’re a great team and they’re smelling blood.”
Drury, who also scored twice in Buffalo’s Game 1 victory, gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead with a power-play goal 39 seconds into the second period. He scored from the slot off his own rebound after DiPietro and defenceman Tom Poti failed to control the puck.
“Ricky made a great toe save and the rebound just found its way to me through a bunch of sticks and bodies,” Drury said. “When you get the good ice at the start of the period, you want to take advantage of it.”
The Islanders thought they had tied it with 1:42 left in the third after Miller was pushed across the goal line in a big scramble. Referee Mike Leggo, positioned behind the goal, immediately waved off the goal and his decision was upheld by replay.
“Rule 78.5 says after a goaltender makes a save, they can’t be pushed into the net after making the save,” Leggo said. “I deemed the puck was under him and he made the save, and then he was pushed into the net. After he was in the net, I saw the puck came loose. I didn’t see the puck until he got up, actually.”
Naturally, Islanders coach Ted Nolan disagreed.
“I don’t care what anybody says. That was a goal,” Nolan said. “The league says it wasn’t a goal, so what can you do?”
And of course, Ruff agreed with Leggo and the replay officials.
“Millsey had it covered,” Ruff said. “He was just pushed into the back of the net.”
Pominville then sealed the victory, beating DiPietro with 1:12 left.
“Believe me, it’s been two hard-fought games,” Ruff said. “They’ve been battling. They’ve done a pretty decent job of defending us.”
After Blake opened the scoring for the Islanders at 6:24 of the first, Vanek and Drury scored in a 1:48 span to give Buffalo a 2-1 lead. Vanek tied it with 8:43 left, beating DiPietro from the high slot off a rebound. Drury then slipped the puck past DiPietro from the edge of the crease off a feed from Dainius Zubrus.
Sillinger tied it at two on a power play with 16 seconds left in the period, beating Miller from the slot off Viktor Kozlov’s pass from behind the goal.
Blake scored a second after a New York power play expired. After Miller stopped Blake twice and turned aside Miroslav Satan’s close-range attempt, Blake took a cross-ice feed from Poti and beat Miller with a quick shot from the right slot.
Blake missed most of the second period after crashing headfirst into the boards late in the first. Buffalo’s Teppo Numminen was penalized for boarding on the play, leading to Sillinger’s power-play goal.
“If that wasn’t a hit from behind, I don’t know what is,” Nolan said.
The Islanders haven’t advanced past the first round since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 1993. In their previous two playoff appearances, first-round matchups with Ottawa in 2003 and Tampa Bay in 2004, the Islanders split on the road only to drop the next two at home en route to five-game eliminations – the same situation they face against the speedy Sabres.
“We’ll just go up to Buffalo and see what happens,” Nolan said. “They’re a Presidents’ Cup team. They’re built to win the Stanley Cup.”
Notes: Vanek also scored Monday night in Buffalo’s 3-2 victory in Game 3. … The Sabres also won three of the four regular-season meetings against New York. … Game 6, if necessary, will be Sunday night at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.