GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- As the New York Rangers staged a practice finally knowing who their second-round playoff opponent would be, they had to dig deep into their memories to begin preparing for Buffalo. They have not played the Sabres since Dec. 1.
A bizarre gap in the NHL schedule has created an Eastern Conference semifinal series between strangers. Introductions may be necessary when the teams play Game 1 tonight in Buffalo.
In their four meetings this season, the Rangers were 0-1-3.
"I don't remember the games," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "But when the playoffs start, it's almost like you play a different team. "
Because of the way the season progressed, this series will feature one new team. The Rangers of late April look little like the team that couldn't beat Buffalo in any of four tries in their first 26 games of the season.
The Sabres charged to the front of the standings in October, tying an NHL record by winning their first 10 games. The Rangers sputtered through the first half, hitting the stride that carried them to the playoffs in February.
The Sabres finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL. New York's late surge made it the No. 6 seed in the conference.
The Rangers are more than happy to hoist the underdog flag again for this series. They waved it heartily before playing the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round, which they turned into a four-game sweep.
The Sabres had only a slightly tougher time with their first-round opponent, eliminating the New York Islanders in five games.
"I don't know if they're the cream of the crop right now," Rangers coach Tom Renney said of the Sabres. "They're certainly one of eight teams left, and a good one. I'm not going to suggest I don't want to give them credit, but we're where we are because we belong here, too."
"One thing I will say is we are a different team than we were three months ago. Buffalo is what they are. Maybe we're a little less familiar to them than they are to us. They are a good team. I'm not going to take anything away from them, but I'm not going to pump their tires, either."