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Game Seven for Rangers-Caps and Game One for Kings-Coyotes highlight hockey weekend

Madison Square Garden is one of the best arenas in the NHL for a regular game. The atmosphere should be off the charts Saturday.

The Rangers host Washington in Game Seven of their Eastern Conference semifinal. The winner faces New Jersey for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup finals. The loser joins the Flyers in a second-round exit.

"It's going to be exciting," New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist told reporters. "We have to get together here and just play our absolute best hockey of the year."

The Rangers are 4-0 lifetime in Game Sevens in the Garden. The last win came in the opening round against Ottawa. The Capitals won at home in Game Six and hope to do the same on the road Saturday.

"Our goal was do-or-die, win Game Six -- the same goal as for Game Seven," Capitals defenseman John Carlson said.

Meanwhile, Phoenix and Los Angeles will try to win Game One. The Western Conference final begins Sunday in Phoenix.

General Manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett are getting credit for bringing the previously orphaned Coyotes to within four wins of their first Cup appearance.

"You look at what he's done with our team, he's taken us from the basement to the top of the league," Yandle said of Tippett. "I'm sure every team will tell you that they don't like playing against us, especially in the regular season. You've got to tip your hat to Tip with the way he's been able to come in here and take over this team and get us where we want to be."

In Philadelphia, the Flyers didn't get to where they wanted. After a convincing first-round dismantling of the Pittsburgh Penguins, they went out in five games against the Devils.

A lot of the blame is going to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who underperformed after getting a nine-year, $51 million contract. The talkative netminder stayed away from locker cleanout day.

"Did he play as good as I expected this year?" Holmgren asked. "I'd probably say, no."

In other news:

*Commissioner Gary Bettman welcomed the new owners of the St. Louis Blues.

*Anaheim gave coach Bruce Boudreau a two-year contract extension.

---John Vogl

Unbeaten U.S. meets Slovakia this afternoon at world championships

The United States won its first two games at the world championships, dropping France in an easy opener and downing archrival Canada in overtime. The Americans are back on the ice today. They play Slovakia in Finland, with a local puck drop of 1:15 p.m. The game will be on NBC Sports Network.

---John Vogl

Sabres' Vanek is the highest-paid Austrian athlete, according to report

Thomas Vanek made $6.4 million this season, which ranked second on the Sabres. Among athletes from Austria, however, it was No. 1.

ESPN the Magazine tracked the best-paid athletes from 200 countries, and its report has Vanek as the top earner from Austria. He is one of five NHL players to lead a country in athletic earnings, joining Pittsburgh's Craig Adams (Brunei Darussalam, $725,000), Minnesota's Mikko Koivu (Finland, $7.29 million), Winnipeg's Nik Antropov (Kazakhstan, $4.25 million), Philadelphia's Ilya Bryzgalov (Russia, $10 million) and Boston's Zdeno Chara (Slovakia, $8.5 million).

The highest-paid athlete in 2011, according to the report, was boxer Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines. He made $50 million in two fights. Antagonist and fellow fighter Floyd "Money" Mayweather topped U.S. athletes by making $40 million for one fight.

(Mayweather will fight Saturday night for the junior middleweight title held by Miguel Cotto. A long-awaited Mayweather-Pacquiao fight would undoubtedly keep the duo at the top again, but it unfortunately remains a long shot.)

Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso tied Mayweather for the No. 2 spot by topping Spain's list at $40 million. Soccer players dominated the 200-country list by taking the top spot 117 times.

---John Vogl

United States set to kick off world hockey championships early Friday morning

Jhonas Enroth wants to impress the home folks. Andrej Sekera and Miroslav Satan hope to earn an Olympic berth for their country. Ted Nolan is coaching a small European nation respected for its love of hockey.

The world hockey championships don’t get the recognition bestowed up on the Olympics or world juniors, and only two members of the Buffalo Sabres are participating. But there are still story lines as the 16-nation tournament starts Friday in Finland and Sweden.

Enroth is one of the three goaltenders for co-host Sweden. The Buffalo backup is the only one with NHL experience and is hopeful of significant playing time in his hometown of Stockholm.

Sekera joins Boston captain Zdeno Chara and former Sabres forwards Satan and Milan Bartovic on a motivated Slovakian squad. Slovakia is ranked 10th by the International Ice Hockey Federation, and only the top nine countries will secure an automatic berth to the 2014 Olympics in Russia.

As usual, the American and Canadian teams feature NHL-laden lineups. Former Buffalo defenseman Chris Butler is on the U.S. squad, but Sabres left wing Nathan Gerbe dropped out with a lower-back injury.

Nolan, the previous coach of the Sabres, will lead Latvia for the first time after being hired last summer. Nolan is the first North American coach for the country since 1939. The nation of just more than 2 million has advanced to the last 16 world championships but has only four quarterfinal appearances.

Other former Sabres participating include Russia’s Dmitri Kalinin, Czech Republic’s Jiri Novotny and Germany’s Felix Schutz and Philip Gogulla. NHL notables include Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Zetterberg of Sweden, and Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk of Russia.

Teams can add to their roster up until two hours before each game, which conclude with the gold-medal championship May 20 in Helsinki, Finland. For the first time, two countries will host the tournament. Sweden and Finland will split the preliminary round and quarterfinals, then the semis and medal round will be held solely in Helsinki.

All 64 games can be viewed for free at hockey. NBC Sports Network will televise all the U.S. games and the medal round. The Americans open the tourney against France at 5:15 a.m. Friday.

---John Vogl

Gabriel, Manley taken in USHL draft

Lancaster sophomore Josh Gabriel was selected by the Tri-City Storm in the second round of the United States Hockey League's future's draft, making him the top player selected from Western New York. Orchard Park's Charlie Manley also was selected.

Gabriel, a forward. was the first pick of the second round (16th overall) after playing last season for the Buffalo Junior Sabres 16-under team. He has been among the most dominant players in his age group for the past several years while playing for West Seneca and the Regals.

Manley, of Orchard Park, was selected by Waterloo with the second pick of the third round (32nd overall). He played youth hockey for the Regals and spent last season playing for Selects Hockey, a program in Connecticut. The smooth-skating defenseman plans to eventually play for RPI.

The future's draft was for players born in 1996 or later. The USHL Entry draft will be held May 22.

---  Bucky Gleason


Roberts apologizes for insulting Canucks' GM during defense of Hodgson

Gary Roberts is still passionate in his defense of Cody Hodgson. But he said today he shouldn't have used the word "moron" while fighting back against Hodgson's former general manager.

Speaking with Sportsnet 590 The Fan in Toronto, Roberts said he's sorry for his word selection while sticking up for Hodgson against comments made by Canucks GM Mike Gillis.

"I absolutely apologize," Roberts told the AM radio station. "It’s a long story. I apologize for using that word. I should not have used that word. Obviously, emotion was part of my game, as you guys know, and sometimes I didn’t always make the right choice. As you can see, I’m still not making the right choices in maybe that word selection.

"But I felt that the time that I’ve spent with Cody Hodgson these last three years, to see the type of person he is and the commitment he’s made to getting healthy and being the player that everybody expected him to be, I really felt strongly to make a stand for that young man the other day."

While discussing the February trade that sent Hodgson to Buffalo for Zack Kassian, Gillis said last week he "spent more time on Cody's issues than every other player combined on our team the last three years."

Roberts, who is entering his third summer of training Hodgson, defended the center during a phone interview with The News over the weekend.

"I talked to Cody after this came out with Gillis," Roberts said. "I know he's on vacation, and I said, 'Hey, I know you went through a lot of stress. How are you feeling about some of those comments?' He said, 'Gary, I've dealt with a lot of stuff there in the last three years, and I'm just going to take the high road.'

"For me, I'd like to be the guy that looks at Mike Gillis and says, 'You're a moron.' It doesn't really do anybody any good other than the fact that Mike Gillis looks like, as they say on TSN, a dud."

Roberts told the radio station today: "I didn’t mean to cause anybody any grief other than the fact I didn’t even refer to that word, to be honest with you. It was kind of taken, 'I would like to be the guy that says that, but really that’s not doing anybody any good,' is how I phrased it, and it came out differently, and so I apologize for that word. It should not have been used."

---John Vogl

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl |

About Sabres Edge

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |