Buffalo Sabres\' Jochen Hecht (55), of Germany, passes the puck in front of New York Islanders\' Brendan Witt (32) during the first period of the NHL hockey playoff game at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y., Friday, April 20, 2007. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
It worked for Ryan Miller, whose blind glove save in the final seconds was enough to solidify the Buffalo Sabres' trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals. "I panicked," Miller said, describing his stop that prevented Miroslav Satan from rallying the New York Islanders from a three-goal, third-period deficit. "And luckily I got a hold of it."
Miller's save was the difference in allowing the Sabres to hang on for a 4-3 victory on Friday night and win their best-of-seven first-round series in five games.
The save came with 12 seconds left and with the Sabres reeling, barely hanging on after nearly squandering a 4-1 lead in the final 13 minutes.
"It was the save of the series," Satan said. "I don't know how he saved it."
With the Islanders' net empty, Satan got in behind the defence, streaking across the top of the crease from the right circle. Getting Miller to make the first move, Satan deftly cut around the sprawled goalie and was looking at a wide-open side before Miller thrust out his glove in desperation to deflect the puck just wide.
Miller then scrambled back into position to prevent Alexei Yashin from poking in the rebound.
"At that point, we were holding on and I didn't want this to be a turning point in the series," said Miller, who stopped 30 shots. "We fought for everything we got."
Maxim Afinogenov had a goal and assist. His goal, set up by Thomas Vanek's drop pass on a transition rush, was the difference, giving Buffalo a 4-1 lead 6:38 into the third period.
The Sabres advanced to the second round for the second straight year and will face either the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay, should the Lightning get past New Jersey. The Rangers have already advanced after sweeping Atlanta, while New Jersey is up 3-2 in its series.
Satan and Chris Campoli had a goal and assist each for the Islanders.
It was a wild and fitting end to a series that was much more competitive than anticipated. The top-seeded Sabres entered as the prohibitive favourites against an opponent that sneaked into the post-season by winning its final four games.
"We should be proud of ourselves," Islanders forward Jason Blake said. "For the last month, every game we played was like a Game 7."
If only the Islanders had been more consistent, or gotten some breaks.
New York entered the game already unhappy after disputed goals went against it in each of the past two games - including a potential tying goal disallowed in a 4-2 loss in Game 4.
Then the Isles learned hours before Friday's game they'd be without Sean Hill. The veteran defenceman was hit with a 20-game suspension by the NHL for violating the league's drug policy.
"I don't even want to think about that," Islanders coach Ted Nolan said, referring to the timing of Hill's suspension. "I fully concentrated on this game. We just came up a little short."
The Sabres appeared to take control when Jason Pominville, set up after Daniel Briere stripped Satan, scored 39 seconds into the second period to make it 2-0, and Derek Roy scored 11 minutes later.
Back came the Islanders.
Down 4-1, Trent Hunter converted a rebound in front with 10:17 remaining. Campoli scored 3:24 later, also converting a rebound after Miller foiled Richard Park's shot from the slot.
Miller, however, recovered, stopping the final nine shots he faced.
"It was tense for everybody, but Ryan was huge again," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. "The last five to six minutes, he was unbelievable."
Drew Stafford also scored for the Sabres.
New York lost its fifth consecutive first-round playoff series, and hasn't advanced since reaching the conference finals in 1993.
"We didn't compete in the first two periods and that cost us," said Ryan Smyth, acquired at the trade deadline in February and eligible to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. "We battled hard in the third period, but by then it was too late. It's frustrating and disappointing. It's tough to swallow right now."
Notes: Isles rookie D Drew Fata made his playoff debut in place of Hill. Fata had one goal in three regular-season games. ... Briere extended his points streak to five games. He had a goal and four assists. ... The Sabres clinched a playoff series at home for only the 10th time in franchise history, and first since beating Philadelphia in Game 6 of a 2001 first-round series.