Ales Kotalik and the Buffalo Sabres provided an answer to anyone questioning whether they are the elite team in the NHL.
It's a response that came through loud and clear in a 5-2 victory over the visiting New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series last night.
"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."
"Yeah, obviously, everybody heard it," Kotalik said. "We talked about it. It's a good thing."
Thomas Vanek scored twice and Kotalik once during a three-goal second-period that broke open a scoreless game and put the Sabres in control.
It was a vintage outburst - Buffalo scored three times on four shots in a 4:05 span - for a potent Sabres team that scored a league-leading 308 goals in the regular season. And it erased whatever lingering memories the Sabres had after they were inconsistent in dispatching the New York Islanders in five games in the first round.
"When we finally got that first one past [goalie Henrik Lundqvist], it was, 'All right,' " Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said. "For us, it gave us confidence and we just kept attacking."
The five goals were the most the Sabres have scored this postseason and were one short of the total the Rangers allowed in a four-game, first-round series sweep of Southeast Division champion Atlanta.
Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford, with an empty-net goal, also scored for the Sabres.
Marcel Hossa and Brendan Shanahan scored third-period goals for New York, which never got closer than two goals in the final 20 minutes.
"Mentally, we weren't as sharp as we needed to be, and not as sharp as we'll be next game," Shanahan said. "I don't know if they outplayed us, but they outperformed us."
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, noting the Rangers played their first game in a week.
The Sabres' Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots.
In the other game:
* At Anaheim, Andy McDonald scored three goals and the Ducks overwhelmed Vancouver, 5-1, in Game 1 of their Western Conference series.
* Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom has an eye injury that will sideline him tonight when the Red Wings open their second-round series against San Jose.
Defenseman Brett Lebda also will miss Game 1 because of a sore ankle and concussion. *