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HOCKEY NOTEBOOK

Sabres, Senators have fighting spirit

Buffalo's Chris Drury is focused on now, not February. Buffalo's Chris Drury is focused on now, not February. (BRENDAN McDERMID/REUTERS)

Dressed in black and wearing a frown to match, ever-brooding Buffalo Sabres cocaptain Chris Drury made it clear yesterday that his focus was on the future and not the past.

Drury wasn't in the mood to entertain questions about what happened in February, when he was knocked out and bloodied by Ottawa forward Chris Neil's blindside hit. And forget the bad blood that exists between the Sabres and Senators as they prepare to open the Eastern Conference finals.

Drury was only looking forward to getting the best-of-seven series started in Buffalo tonight.

"I don't think I have a choice," Drury said. "If you get caught looking behind you, you're not going to be ready for the next challenge . . . It's our job to get mentally and physically ready for Game 1."

The Senators are prepared, too, although coach Bryan Murray was pleased to know there were enough story lines to keep everyone occupied this week.

"I think we all know the history," Murray said. "It's a matter of just playing now."

There's been plenty to discuss about the Northeast Division rivals. The series is a rematch from last year, when Buffalo eliminated Ottawa, the top-seeded team, in five games in the second round.

And then there's what happened Feb. 22, when Neil's check sparked a brawl between the teams. Drury downplayed the hit, even though he missed four games because of a concussion.

"I don't really have any feelings on it," Drury said. "For me, it ended when I stood up, got stitched up, showered up and that was it."

Neil was glad Drury wasn't seriously hurt, but added yesterday he wouldn't have done anything different.

"That's part of hockey," said Neil, who was not penalized on the play. "If that hit's there in the playoffs, I'm going to make it. It doesn't change my outlook on things. I've got to play physical. And I want them to be aware when I'm on the ice."

It should help the Sabres that they need little motivation.

"I don't think it matters that it's the Senators," goalie Ryan Miller said. "It's hockey. We've got to play."

Opening statement?
Tomorrow night's Western Conference finals opener between Anaheim and host Detroit could have more significance than your typical Game 1 -- every playoff series between the teams has ended in a sweep.

In two of the previous three series, the winner advanced to the Cup finals (Detroit 1997, Anaheim 2003). Detroit coach Mike Babcock led the Ducks over the Wings in first round of 2003 playoffs during his first season as coach.

This is Detroit's sixth trip to the conference finals in 12 years, tying Colorado for the most appearances during that time.

Russia, Sweden go on
Russia led the entire way, and Sweden came from behind to secure spots in the semifinals of the hockey world championship in Moscow. Penguins star Evgeni Malkin scored two goals to help Russia beat the Czech Republic, 4-0, and Tony Martensson scored three goals in defending champion Sweden's 7-4 win over Slovakia. Russia, undefeated in seven games and bidding for its first title since 1993, will play either the US or Finland Saturday. Sweden will face Canada or Switzerland . . . Also in Moscow, Russia refused to sign a new four-year player agreement regulating transfers from Europe to the NHL. The Russian federation refused to sign because it wants the NHL to honor its league contracts. All other International Ice Hockey Federation member associations ratified the agreement by the Tuesday midnight deadline . . . The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed forward Jason Ward for two years . . . Forward Igor Grigorenko signed a one-year deal with Detroit.

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