Niagara Gazette

Pro Sports

April 11, 2007

SABRES: Buffalo enters first round with high expectations, stacked roster

BUFFALO — Believe it or not, a substantial dose of pressure will be lifted from the Buffalo Sabres when the puck is finally dropped tonight at HSBC Arena. With a city yearning for its first major professional sports title, the opening game between the Sabres and the New York Islanders will take the focus off frothing fans and put it squarely back on hockey.

“The city’s sure excited, but that’s the fun part,” Buffalo’s Jason Pominville said Wednesday. “Everybody’s behind us. It’s a great atmosphere. We just can’t wait to get this going.”

With good reason. The Sabres are the healthiest favorite in the Eastern Conference’s first round, an overwhelming pick to defeat a New York team that needed a shootout on the season’s final day to qualify for the postseason.

But in Wade Dubielewicz, a backup goalie who rescued the Isles’ season, Buffalo is preparing for a largely unknown commodity. Dubielewicz played two periods against Buffalo this season, but has just 17 National Hockey League starts in threeseasons.

He is, however, hot when it counts, and the Sabres would prefer to get to him early rather than allowing Dubielewicz to gain confidence. Who has the edge, a goalie that’s unfamiliar with a hot offense or an offense that’s unfamiliar with a new goalie?

“It’s probably a little bit of both,” Pominville said. “I’m sure he’s a goalie we’ll talk about in meetings. He was a great goalie in the AHL and he finally got a shot at playing. And he took advantage of it. We’ll have to make sure we figure him out.”

While Dubielewicz is a mystery, the Sabres offense is not. Buffalo led the league in goals with 309 and added Tim Connolly for the final two games of the franchise’s winningest regular season in history. Connolly should boost a lagging special teams unit that was one of the few areas Buffalo didn’t dominate the league’s stat charts.

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