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Friday, May 5th (All times eastern)

(4) Buffalo Sabres (0-0) at (1) Ottawa Senators (0-0), 7 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The top two teams in the Northeast Division meet up tonight when the Ottawa Senators welcome the Buffalo Sabres to Scotiabank Place for Game 1 of their conference semifinal set.

The top-seeded Sens have been off since last Saturday, as they posted a five- game series victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Buffalo, meanwhile, has had two full days of rest after disposing of the Philadelphia Flyers in six.

Coming into the playoffs the Senators had a huge concern in goal, where Ray Emery continues to play in place of the injured Dominik Hasek. Emery stopped 158 of the 171 shots he faced against the Lightning, and clearly outplayed Tampa's patchwork duo of John Grahame and Sean Burke.

Hasek has been working towards getting back from the upper leg/groin injury he suffered at the Olympics, but hasn't made the progress he'd like. It remains unclear if/when the six-time Vezina winner will be back in the lineup.

A player who is back from injury for Ottawa is winger Martin Havlat, who played the final two regular season games after missing most of the campaign with a serious shoulder injury. Havlat made a huge impact in the opening round, tallying six goals and four assists -- hitting on 35 percent of his shots.

Havlat netted half of his goals on the power play, helping the Senators convert at a sizzling rate with the man advantage. They tallied eight times on 24 chances versus the Bolts (33.3 percent).

Jason Spezza and 50-goal-scorer Dany Heatley both chipped in eight assists, but the Sens did advance with only one goal coming off the stick of captain Daniel Alfredsson.

Defensively the Senators limited the high-tempo Lightning to 13 goals in five games. Wade Redden appeared in four of the five games and was a team-high plus 5 in the set. Redden skated for much of the set with a heavy heart, as his mother passed away after a bout with cancer last week.

The Sabres, meanwhile, defeated the Flyers, 7-1, in Game 6 on Tuesday -- their second blowout win of the series. The team's only hiccups were in Games 3 and 4 in Philly, but aside from those tilts Lindy Ruff's troops had their way.

The Sabres' best trait was their balanced scoring up front, as eight players netted at least two goals in the first round. J.P. Dumont and rookie Jason Pominville, who both posted hat tricks in the Game 2 rout, chipped in four goals, while Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Tim Connolly and Ales Kotalik all had three.

Buffalo's superior skating ability simply proved too much for the slow-footed Flyers. Odd-man rushes were aplenty for the Sabres, and they were often able to use their quickness to pounce on rebounds and make life tough for opposing goaltender Robert Esche.

Balance was the theme on defense too, as the Sabres split the ice time rather fairly and didn't lean too heavily on any one blueliner. Both Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder tied for the club lead with plus-7 ratings.

In net, rookie Ryan Miller was perceived as a possible flaw for Buffalo, but he performed with flying colors in the first round. While he did appear shaky during the two games played in Philadelphia, other than that he was terrific. He finished the series strong, stopping 45 of the 46 shots he faced in Games 5 and 6.

Buffalo and Ottawa have met twice before in the postseason. In 1997 the Sabres defeated the Senators in seven games, while 1999 saw Buffalo sweep away Ottawa. Both meetings were in the first round.

The Senators went 5-3 against the Sabres this season, but Buffalo won the final two meetings.

05/05 10:08:02 ET


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