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Sabres Dominate Rangers In Easter Conference Semifinals

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ The real Buffalo Sabres are back. It took the NHL's top-seeded team a round to get going, but the Sabres are starting to play the up-tempo, dominating style that led them to league highs of 53 wins and 308 goals during the regular season.

``That looked a lot like the team that played most of the year,'' coach Lindy Ruff said.

Thomas Vanek scored twice and Ales Kotalik once during a decisive three-goal second period in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers in the opener of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Wednesday night.

The Sabres added two more goals _ including Drew Stafford's empty-netter _ in the third and looked nothing like the team that endured uncharacteristic lapses in struggling to dispatch the New York Islanders in five games during the first round.

``We said, 'Let's keep attacking.''' Ruff said. ``We learned from it. We dealt with it. We moved on.''

And it's suddenly the Rangers' turn to respond to their first loss this postseason after a first-round sweep of Southeast Division champion Atlanta. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Friday at Buffalo.

``Mentally, we weren't as sharp as we needed to be, and not as sharp as we'll be in our next game,'' Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. ``I don't know if they outplayed us, but they outperformed us.''

In the only other game Wednesday night, Anaheim beat Vancouver 5-1 in the opener of that Western Conference semifinal series.

New Jersey hosts Ottawa on Thursday in the other series in the East, and Detroit will welcome San Jose for Game 1 out West later in the night.

Jason Pominville also scored in pacing an ultra-balanced Sabres attack that got production from all four lines and the power-play unit. Buffalo took control when Vanek opened the scoring 14:19 into the second period, deflecting in Dmitri Kalinin's point shot on the power play.

The Sabres scored twice more on their next three shots, building a 3-0 lead in a 4:05 span.

The five goals were the most Buffalo's scored this postseason, and one shy of the number the Rangers allowed the Thrashers in the opening round.

Buffalo also provided an answer to anyone questioning whether they are the elite team in the NHL.

``I think we showed everybody we were ready,'' Kotalik said. ``A lot of things were said before the game, and we made sure we showed to respond not in the paper but on the ice.''

Kotalik was referring to Rangers coach Tom Renney's comments suggesting the top-seeded Sabres weren't the league's ``cream of the crop.''

The Rangers went 1-for-5 in power-play chances, but failed to score during a 2-minute, two-man advantage early in the third period.

``We haven't played in a while and it really showed,'' Renney said after the Rangers' first game in a week.

Henrik Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the game, stopping the first 23 shots he faced.

Buffalo's Ryan Miller made 32 saves, his shutout bid spoiled when Marcel Hossa scored midway through the third period. Shanahan also scored for the Rangers.

``I think we're the kind of team that responds well to challenges,'' Renney said. ``We have over the last month or so and I expect we'll have a much better game Friday night.''

The Rangers welcomed back defenseman Karel Rachunek, who had missed 16 games with a sprained right knee. But New York then lost Michal Rozsival, their top offensive defenseman, who didn't return after hurting his leg early in the second period.

Ducks 5, Canucks 1

At Anaheim, Calif., Andy McDonald had his first career playoff hat trick and assisted on another goal as the host Ducks opened their first series against Vancouver with a victory.

After Jeff Cowan gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead at 7:07 of the first period, the Ducks responded by scoring three times _ twice by McDonald _ on their first nine shots against goalie Roberto Luongo.

Teemu Selanne had a goal and assist during the outburst, and Chris Kunitz assisted on all three goals. Jean-Sebastien Giguere finished with 26 saves for the Ducks.

Ryan Getzlaf gave Anaheim a three-goal pad midway through the final period, and McDonald capped the scoring on a shot from just left of the crease when the Ducks had a two-man advantage with 52 seconds remaining.

The second game of the Western Conference semifinal series is Friday at Anaheim.
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