Chris Drury and Brian Campbell each scored two goals, helping the top-seeded Sabres open the playoffs with an efficient 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders in their Eastern Conference series Thursday night.
As they did in finishing the season with a league-leading 53 wins and 308 goals, the Sabres showed off their balanced offence. Campbell’s game-opening goal was set up by fourth-line centre Tim Connolly, and Buffalo converted two of six power-play chances.
Better still, Buffalo was sound on defence, limiting the Islanders to 21 shots, including just one in the first period.
Arron Asham scored for New York, which clinched the East’s eighth and final playoff berth by winning its last four games of the regular season.
Minor league goaltender Wade Dubielewicz wasn’t to blame in making his career playoff debut filling in for starter Rick DiPietro, who’s out after sustaining two concussions last month. Dubielewicz kept the Isles in by stopping 20 of the first 22 shots, and finished with 31 saves.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is at Buffalo on Saturday.
The Sabres never trailed, with Drury scoring the go-ahead goal on a power play in the second period. Driving into the slot, he flipped in a loose puck after Campbell’s shot was blocked in front.
Drury then made it 3-1 when he one-timed Dainius Zubrus’ cross-ice feed just as a Sabres power-play chance ended a minute into the third period, while Campbell later added a power-play goal. Zubrus had three assists.
The win was the first step for a Sabres team whose lone objective since the start of the season has been winning the Stanley Cup. Buffalo is focused after returning the same core of players that got within one win of last year’s finals before losing to eventual champion Carolina.
The Islanders are making their first playoff appearance since 2004, and attempting to advance past the first round for the first time since 1993. They’ve lost three straight first-round series since.
The test for New York is determining how to generate offence while keeping the Sabres’ speedy forwards in check.
The Islanders’ troubles were evident in the first period, when they were outshot 11-1, setting a franchise post-season low for fewest shots in a period. The previous low was two against Washington in 1984.
And it wasn’t much of a shot, the puck dribbling to Ryan Miller when Isles forward Randy Robitaille drove to the net, but couldn’t get around a Sabres defender 15 minutes in.
Miller stopped 20 shots and made a brilliant poke-check to foil Ryan Smyth’s breakaway attempt in the third period.
Notes: Isles RW Richard Zednik returned after being excused for the team’s final nine games to attend a family emergency. New York D Bruno Gervais returned after missing 24 games with ankle injuries. … The Sabres feature 17 players who appeared in at least one game during Buffalo’s playoff run last year. … The one shot allowed in the first period matched a Sabres playoff record set five previous times.