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Rangers have made it a series by stifling high-scoring Sabres

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Rangers have made it a series by stifling high-scoring Sabres

The Canadian Press
By:

The Buffalo Sabres led the NHL with 298 goals this season, an average of 3.63 a game, but have manufactured only 10 in four games - one of them an empty-netter in Game 1.

Is it time to label the Rangers as one of the top defensive teams in the league along the likes of a New Jersey? Only the Devils gave up less goals in the Eastern Conference this year than the Rangers.

"All we want to do is be a winner and we want to be respected for how we play," Rangers head coach Tom Renney said Wednesday. "And to have a bit of a reputation, 'Geez, here comes the New York Rangers,' to have teams know what to expect from us and be somewhat fearful of that."

They limited Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa and the Atlanta Thrashers to six goals in four games in the first round. Now they've managed to tame the league' most potent offensive club heading into Friday night's pivotal Game 5 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo (7 p.m. ET).

Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff, one of the game's best strategists, has reacted throughout the series by continually shuffling his forward lines and in Game 4 making Maxim Afinogenov, a point-a-game winger in the regular season, a healthy scratch. But the Rangers have still found a way to shut them down.

A big part of it is limiting Buffalo's power play to three goals on 25 opportunities in the series - a success rate of 12 per cent.

"We've tried to make their entries a little tougher then they would like," Renney explained on a conference call with reporters. "They're one of those teams that can score off the rush, too, on the power play so we've tried to stifle their entries a little bit, which confuses them to a point where we might be able to strike at other points in the defensive zone.

"They're still a formidable team and, even though the numbers might suggest that they're struggling with their power play, that can change in a single game," added Renney.

The Rangers have made a series of it despite themselves only scoring eight goals in four games - a fact that would have scared Renney had he known that before the series started.

"If we were only scoring two goals a game against the Buffalo Sabres, I'm not so sure that we would be pulling this off just yet," admitted Renney. "But having said that, we've played well defensively, our goaltending has been terrific, no question, and if we can continue to do that, all you want to do is score enough to win. If it's two goals on any one of these next few nights, then great."

The Rangers have also answered an important question about their character after leaving Buffalo last Friday night down 2-0 in the series. It was their first bout of adversity in the playoffs after sweeping Atlanta in the first round and observers wondered if they had in their dressing room what it took to charge back against the Sabres.

"It's those guys embracing the opportunity for what it is and that's to make a statement on behalf of our team," Renney said of his players' response.

"A lot of people this year were wondering if the Rangers would be even close to playoff hockey," he added. "To actually have gotten here by the nature of how we played down the stretch, you really felt as a coach that the guys had it in them.

"Falling down 2-0 to a darn good hockey team, it was just a terrific challenge, which is basically what the second half has been about for us."

If the Rangers didn't truly believe in their hearts, before the series, that they had a shot against the top-seeded Sabres, they sure do now.

"If they didn't come in here thinking they could win the series it would be for a lack of experience possibly, or a lack of exposure to Buffalo," Renney said. "(But) I truly believe our guys think they can beat anybody.

"There's no better attitude, quite honestly, or you might not as well even play."

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Rangers have made it a series by stifling high-scoring Sabres