BUFFALO - Thomas Vanek and the Buffalo Sabres sure looked like the cream of the crop last night.
Vanek scored twice, sparking a three-goal second period, and Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots in Buffalo's 5-2 win over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series opener. Jason Pominville and Ales Kotalik also scored for a Buffalo team that played much better after struggling to eliminate the New York Islanders in five games in the first round.
The Sabres were particularly motivated after Rangers coach Tom Renney said this week that top-seeded Buffalo wasn't the NHL's "cream of the crop" team.
Marcel Hossa and Brendan Shanahan scored third-period goals for the Rangers, who lost their first game this postseason after sweeping Southeast Division champion Atlanta. The Rangers went 1 for 5 in power-play chances, but failed to score during a two-minute, two-man advantage early in the third period.
The Sabres never allowed the Rangers to within a goal in the third, and Drew Stafford sealed the win with an empty-netter.
New York didn't look rusty in its first game in a week, but the Rangers struggled to keep up with the Sabres' depth and speed. That was apparent when the Sabres went up by 3-0, scoring three times on four shots during a 4-minute, 5-second span late in the second period.
Vanek opened the scoring 14 minutes into the frame with a power-play goal.
Buffalo's fourth line struck for the next goal when Kotalik, set up by Adam Mair's pass, split two defenders and snapped a shot from the right circle that beat Henrik Lundqvist high on the far side.
Vanek capped the surge when he beat Karel Rachunek at the Rangers' blue line then drove in and around Paul Mara, and scored on Lundqvist.