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Gionta leads Sabres past Sharks; Neuvirth injured

by Joe Yerdon

BUFFALO – The Buffalo Sabres’ mastery of the San Jose Sharks continued Tuesday.

Brian Gionta had two goals and an assist to lead the Sabres to a 4-1 win against Sharks at First Niagara Center. The win was their eighth straight against the Sharks.

The Sabres took a 2-1 lead on Gionta's first goal of the season 11:54 into the second period. Gionta took a pass from Brian Flynn and snapped a shot past Sharks goalie Troy Grosenick to his blocker side.

“[Flynn] made a great playing coming in the zone finding me and just running out of real estate and just putting it far side, and it found its way in,” Gionta said. “It’s a big relief. It’s been a long time and it weighs on you a little bit.”

Flynn was set up by Gionta with 12 seconds left in the second period for his second goal of the season and a 3-1 Buffalo lead. Gionta passed to Flynn on a 2-on-1 against Sharks defenseman Jason Demers, and Flynn beat a sprawled Grosenick.

“Our first period was probably our best period,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “We didn't play sloppy; we didn't give up outnumbered rushes. We'd come out in the second and third period and played dumb hockey. Just flat out dumb. Pinching, giving up 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s. We'd only given up 10 shots after two periods and we were down 3-0. Just dumb hockey. You don’t win at any level playing like that and you don’t beat any type of team playing like that.”

Gionta scored an empty-net goal with 42 seconds left to make it 4-1.

“That’s one thing ... they talk about Gionta’s lack of scoring before, but the one thing he has been really bringing to the forefront is his leadership, and those type of things that happen to us, he’s the first one to say, just keep going, keep going, keep going,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “That line (Gionta, Flynn and Torrey Mitchell) tonight I thought was our best line by far.”

The Sabres victory gave them two consecutive wins for the first time this season. Buffalo defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2 on Saturday.

“There [are] a number of things that sometimes when you’re going through a phase like we’re going through people sometimes tend to have a tendency to look at the negative things, but there’s some really positive things that are happening along the way,” Nolan said. “There [are] some bright signs and finally to see it all come together with a couple wins is really nice.”

Nic Deslauriers opened the scoring at 5:25 of the second period with his second goal. Deslauriers gathered a loose puck from a Cody McCormick shot, and then quickly fired it off Sharks defenseman Mirco Mueller's foot and past Grosenick.

The Sharks tied the game at 10:29 with a power-play goal by Brent Burns. With Drew Stafford in the penalty box for interference, Burns fired a one-timer on a pass from Joe Thornton past Jhonas Enroth for his seventh goal. Thornton's assist extended his point streak to seven games.

“I think we’re figuring out who we are and I don't know if we like it at this point,” McLellan said. “We’ve got to improve in a lot of areas. We’re going home now for a little while. We’ll get some practice time, but individuals have to pick it up. We’ve had guys that have only scored on the power play in their last 15, 16 games -- key guys. That’s not good enough. We’ve got some individuals that really have to pick it up, and as a result of that, our team game should come around.”

Enroth made 19 saves on 20 shots after he replaced Sabres starting goalie Michal Neuvirth at the start of the second period. Neuvirth made 10 saves before he left the game with a lower-body injury.

“We’ll have a look at him, but I think it will be a little bit more than day-to-day,” Nolan said. “I don’t think he’s going to be back in a day or so.”

Sabres goaltending coach Arturs Irbe, 47, who last played in the NHL in April 2004, dressed as the emergency goalie in the third period.

“Obviously it’s not the comfy equipment I’m used to,” Irbe said. “It was a little different. I had to persevere. To put it on, it took a while. Much longer than it usually takes, it’s been seven years, and that was it. By the start of the third period, I was just in case ready.”

The Sharks nearly made it 3-2 with 4:44 left in the third period when Patrick Marleau's shot trickled to the goal line before it was swept away by Sabres forward Matt Moulson. Officials initially called it a goal, but it was waved off after video review showed the puck did not go across the goal line.

“It looked really close. I wish it would have counted, that’s for sure,” Marleau said. “We had a lot of good looks toward the end there.”

The Sharks ended their seven-game road trip with a 3-4-0 record. They return home to start a six-game homestand Thursday against the Florida Panthers.

“It’s hard to really get a good judge because we’ve been on the road so much, but when you think about how much we’ve been on the road, it’s not too, too bad,” Marleau said. “It could be a lot better, it could be a lot worse, so if we can string some home wins together and start racking up those points, it will be good.”

The game was played in front of an estimated crowd of 6,200 because of a major snowstorm that affected the Buffalo area. The Sabres’ three-goal victory sent the fans who did come to the game home happy.

“Buffalo’s a tough city and always finds a way to get through those types of things, and I was glad we did,” Nolan said. “It was strange at the beginning, but I think the people that were here certainly gave us a boost and how hard they fought even to be here. It just shows you what we’re trying to build here and the brave souls who got here tonight, we certainly appreciated that.”

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