Oleg Saprykin helped the Ottawa Senators further shed their label as underachievers and get a jump on rival Buffalo.

After visiting Ottawa squandered a two-goal lead, Saprykin snapped a tie 7 minutes, 41 seconds into the third period of a 5-2 win last night in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals. Dean McAmmond had a goal and assist, and Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Mike Fisher also scored for the Senators, who improved to 9-2 this postseason.

It wasn't easy, considering the top-seeded Sabres rallied from a 2-0 deficit on goals by Maxim Afinogenov and Toni Lydman. Buffalo then wilted, allowing three goals - including McAmmond's empty-netter - in the final 12 minutes. It was the Sabres' most lopsided loss since a 4-0 defeat against Carolina in Game 4 of last year's conference finals.

Ray Emery shut the door on the NHL's most potent offense, stopping 18 shots, including a solid shoulder save on Adam Mair's snapper early in the third period.

Saprykin's goal came on what began as an innocent play. He was set up after McAmmond intercepted Teppo Numminen's clearing attempt at the left boards. McAmmond fed a pass into the slot, which Saprykin - with a step on defender Dmitri Kalinin - redirected behind Ryan Miller.

Game 2 is in Buffalo tomorrow.


* The NHL Players Association fired executive director Ted Saskin, 2 months after placing him on a paid leave of absence following allegations that he and senior director Ken Kim read players' e-mails.

The union's executive board, made up of 30 player representatives and the six-member interim executive committee, voted to fire Saskin on a conference call. The NHLPA said it was considering its options with Kim, and would have no further comment at this time.

* The United States lost in the world hockey championships in MOscow when Dallas Stars winger Jere Lehtinen scored the lone goal in a penalty shootout to give Finland a 5-4 win and a berth in the semifinals.

Earlier, Matthew Lombardi scored two goals to lead Canada into the semifinals with a 5-1 win over Switzerland. Canada will face Sweden. Finland will play Russia tomorrow. *