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Rookie goalie leads Sabres past Rangers 1-0

by Juha Mikkola
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jhonas Enroth picked the right night for his first NHL shutout.

Not only did the Swedish rookie step in for injured starter Ryan Miller and make 23 saves in a 1-0 victory against the New York Rangers on Wednesday, he did it while playing in front of his parents as an NHL goaltender for the first time -- and against one of his heroes, Henrik Lundqvist

"Lundqvist is one of my idols from childhood, so it is a big moment for me to beat him here," Enroth said. "I flew in my parents (from Sweden to see their first NHL game) tonight, so it was a lot of fun and a very special night for me."

It was a pretty big night for the Sabres as well. Buffalo matched the Rangers' total of 87 points and moved past them into seventh place because it has one more non-shootout win. Both teams lead ninth-place Carolina by three points with five games remaining.

Enroth learned he was playing earlier Thursday when Miller, last year's Vezina Trophy winner and the NHL's First Star last week, was scratched due to an upper-body injury -- coach Lindy Ruff said a shot Miller took near the collarbone during Tuesday's 4-3 loss at Toronto was part of the cause of the injury.

Ruff said he had no concerns about starting Enroth, who had played just three times since Nov. 24.

"Enroth is a cool customer," he said of the 22-year-old, Buffalo's second-round pick (No. 46) in the 2006 Entry Draft. "He doesn't get too rattled or excited, and the team did a good job in front of him. I was confident he and the team would stick with it."

The Sabres scored the game's only goal at 5:28 of the second period. With Rangers defenseman Marc Staal in the box for interference, New York had a 3-on-1 shorthanded break only to have a pass blocked by rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani -- triggering a 3-on-2 rush the other way. Tim Connolly took a pass from Thomas Vanek, opted to shoot from inside the left circle and beat Lundqvist high on the blocker side to send the sellout crowd of 18,690 into a frenzy.

"Great shot by Connolly," Vanek said. "We knew it was going to be a tight game, so anytime you can get the lead you know its going to be good. It ended up being the game-winner."

Connolly's power-play goal was the only one of Buffalo's 35 shots to beat Lundqvist, who had allowed just one goal in New York's last three games. He was sharp throughout, routinely steering shots to safety, covering loose pucks in his crease and dictating the tempo in his own end. He received help from his teammates, including a diving block by Brian Boyle late in the first period to deny Vanek on a slap shot from close range.

"You can't play Game 77 like it is Game 25 for 40 minutes," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "They were the more desperate team and (the way we played) in the first two periods was unacceptable. This was an opportunity lost."

Gragnani's assist was his first NHL point -- he was recalled Monday from Portland of the American Hockey League, where he led all defenseman in points.

"Gragnani's great defensive play led to the (game winning) goal," Ruff said. "His puck movement in the (defensive) zone was what was missing in our loss to the Maple Leafs Tuesday night."

Enroth did some of his best work in the final minute, after Lundqvist left for an extra attacker. He also benefitted from a first-period crease-interference call on Ryan Callahan that negated an apparent goal by Artem Anisimov.

"It was the right call," Tortorella said.

The Rangers lost in regulation for the first time in eight games (6-1-1) to drop to 8-2-1 in their past 11. The Rangers have seen three of their last four games end 1-0 -- they sandwiched wins against Florida and Boston around a 2-1 shootout loss to Ottawa last week. The Rangers travel to Long Island to visit the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum Thursday night.

"This was a big game, and obviously we are disappointed not to have made more ground on them," Staal said. "But we have a game tomorrow and we have the chance to move right past them again. That's our focus now."

Ruff said Miller is day-to-day. He'll have a couple of days to recuperate before the Sabres visit Washington on Saturday night and Carolina on Sunday.

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