Rangers' Avery challenges Sabres

Apr 25, 2007 - 3:51 PM By PA SportsTicker

Sean Avery is coming after the Buffalo Sabres. Goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Jean-Sebastien Giguere promise to stage a goaltender classic showdown.

Those are the story lines as the NHL playoffs resume on Wednesday night with the start of the conference semifinals.

The top-seeded Sabres host Avery and the sixth-seeded New York Rangers in the opener of their Eastern Conference series and the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks face the third-seeded Vancouver Canucks in Game One of their Western Conference series.

The Sabres, who captured the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history, won four of their meetings with the Rangers this season. But all four of those victories came before December 2, and three of them went to overtime or a shootout.

Avery did not play in any of those games. The feisty left wing was acquired by the Rangers from Los Angeles in early February and has provided quite a spark for a team which swept the Atlanta Thrashers in the conference quarterfinals.

Since the trade deadline, the Rangers are 17-3-4 while Buffalo is 16-7-2.

"I'm going to hurt them, I'm going to hit them and be in their face as much as I can," Avery said. "Each check is going to be a little bit harder."

Last year, the Sabres came within one win of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals, a victory that arguably would have come had their top defenseman - Jay McKee - not missed Game Seven of the conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes with an injury.

This season, Buffalo was an offensive force, leading the league with 308 goals. Seven players reached the 20-goal plateau, with another - Jochen Hecht - falling one tally shy.

The Sabres beat the eighth-seeded New York Islanders, four games to one, in the conference quarterfinals.

Now Buffalo must contain Michael Nylander and captain Jaromir Jagr, who recorded eight and seven points, respectively, in the four-game sweep of Atlanta.

The Canucks must come back just two days after beating the Dallas Stars, 4-1, in Game Seven of their conference quarterfinal series.

Anaheim beat the seventh-seeded Minnesota Wild, four games to one, in the conference quarterfinals and have had the last five days off.

A goaltender on a hot streak can often be the difference in the playoffs, and Luongo and Giguere are two of the best in the business.

In his first playoff appearance, the 28-year-old Luongo has a .950 save percentage and a 1.41 goals-against average in seven games.

Giguere was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the postseason MVP in 2003 when the Ducks reached the Stanley Cup Finals. He made numerous key saves in the series-clinching 4-1 win over Minnesota.

But Giguere did not start the first four games of the series due to personal issues. Ilya Bryzgalov was superb in the first three, but struggled in Game Four.

Giguere is expected to start the series opener against the Canucks.

Vancouver needs to get its power play working against the Ducks. The Canucks went 3-for-38 with the extra skater in the conference quarterfinals.

Scoring was a problem in general for Vancouver, which was shut out three times by the Stars.

The Ducks won three games and lost in a shootout against the Canucks this season.

On Thursday, the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings open their Western Conference semifinal series against the fifth-seeded San Jose Sharks and the second-seeded New Jersey Devils face the fourth-seeded Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference semifinals.






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