With Chris Drury and Thomas Vanek scoring clutch goals, host Buffalo didn't need to play an entire game to beat the New York Rangers for a second consecutive time.

Last night, all it took was the third period.

Erasing 40 minutes of offensive frustration, Drury and Vanek scored 10 minutes apart, rallying the Sabres to a 3-2 win to take a 2-0 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

"The timing was pretty good," Drury said, who scored 24 seconds into the period to tie the game at 2-2. "Out of the break, we talked about having a good 5 minutes. We got one right away and it energized us."

Vanek then scored his second straight game winner, converting a scramble in front with 9:49 remaining.

Coach Lindy Ruff could sense the boost the Sabres got from Drury's goal.

"It's great for us and does harm to them for their psyche," Ruff said.

Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr knows how important this win was for the Sabres.

"They probably think it's over," Jagr said. "But you never know. A series can change on one play."

The Rangers, who lost 5-2 on Wednesday, need to regroup quickly with the best-of-seven series shifting to New York for Game 3 tomorrow.

The Sabres won because their best players pulled through in the clutch - and that included goalie Ryan Miller, who stopped 31 shots, including all 11 in the final period.

The Rangers, meanwhile, had nothing in response.

New York managed just one shot in the final 2 minutes, when the team enjoyed a two-man advantage with Buffalo's Daniel Briere in the penalty box and the Rangers goalie pulled.

Jagr had the best opportunity to tie the game with 2:02 left, when he was set up by Ryan Callahan while driving to the net. Jagr got a strong shot off but Miller kicked out his left pad and got his glove out to turn it aside.

"Tough luck, you know," Jagr said. "Next time, maybe it's going to be in."

Martin Straka and Paul Mara scored for the Rangers, who have lost two straight since sweeping Southeast Division champion Atlanta in the first round.

Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell had a goal and registered a key assist on Vanek's goal.

As he was being pushed down from behind in the corner, Campbell shoveled a pass to Drew Stafford in front. With his back to the net, Stafford chipped the puck into the slot, where Vanek flipped it in over Henrik Lundqvist.

It was Vanek's fifth goal of the playoffs, and third in two games.

What the Sabres lacked in offense, they made up for with a strong physical game. Buffalo rattled the Rangers by delivering numerous checks, including Dainius Zubrus upending Jagr with a clean open-ice hip check late in the second period.

Jagr declined to discuss the hit.

"I don't think there's frustration," Jagr said of the team's overall mood. "We have to keep fighting and have some luck on our side."

Noteworthy

* The New Jersey Devils are likely to have their captain back for Game 2 against the Ottawa Senators. A fever-free Patrik Elias skated during an optional workout for New Jersey yesterday and plans to be in the lineup tonight at home in what shapes up as a must-game for New Jersey.

The Devils' captain missed the team's 5-4 loss to Ottawa on Thursday night, sweating out the final symptoms of a bug that has drained him since last Saturday.

* Injured Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom and defenseman Brett Lebda will miss Game 2 of their playoff series today against the San Jose Sharks in Detroit. Holmstrom is out because he has blood on his eye and Lebda has an injured ankle. *