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Surging Sabres blank Panthers 3-0

by Alain Poupart
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek didn't have a lot of  words to explain the chemistry he's had with linemate Jason Pominville this season. Their play continues to speak volumes.

Vanek scored twice and Pominville had a goal and a pair of assists to lead the Sabres to a 3-0 victory against the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. Ryan Miller made 22 saves for the shutout.

"Yeah ... I mean, yeah, so far it's working," Vanek said. "It's a long year, but right now it's good."

With the two goals, Vanek now has six on the season to go along with four assists. He's scored at least one point in each of Buffalo's six games. Pominville has two goals and seven assists, and the pair is a big reason the Sabres are off to a 5-1-0 start.

"They like playing with each other," coach Lindy Ruff said. "You hope that we can get the chemistry with another two guys on a different line in that sense. If you start to know where you're at and you can get pucks to place where you're anticipating, it makes you even more dangerous."

Miller wasn't tested very much in earning his 23rd career shutout and second against the Panthers. His best save probably came in the first period on a Kris Versteeg shot from the slot.

It was a much quieter night for Miller than Buffalo's previous game -- he stopped 40 of 41 shots in a 3-1 victory at Montreal on Tuesday.

"We owed him one, so I thought that was important, too, for the way we played in Montreal," Ruff said. "I thought that last 40 minutes, and especially when leading, we stayed away from any of the odd-numbered stuff and we were going to make Florida earn something if they were going to get it."

Jose Theodore made 35 saves for the short-handed Panthers, who were shut out for the second game in a row — they lost 3-0 at Washington on Tuesday. The two shutouts followed a 7-4 victory at Tampa Bay Monday night when the Panthers tied a franchise record with five power-play goals.

The 22 shots on goal against Buffalo followed a 20-shot effort at Washington.

"We've just got to find way to get more zone time, get the puck down low and keep it simple," center Stephen Weiss said. "Get shots and get guys at the net and bang in rebounds. We haven't been getting enough zone time. We're kind of one touch and out, and it seems like it's a bit easier for them to get in and hang on to it in our zone."

Florida (3-3) played without defensemen Ed Jovanovski (hip) and forwards Sean Bergenheim (lower body) and Shawn Matthias (flu). The Panthers recalled forward Tim Kennedy and 30-year-old center Bracken Kearns from San Antonio Thursday afternoon, and both played against Buffalo.

It was the NHL debut for Kearns, who became the 12th player since the start of the 2000-01 season to play his first game at 30 or older.  The son of former NHL defenseman Dennis Kearns is the second player in Panthers history to earn that distinction — Magnus Svensson made his NHL debut at 32 on March 20, 1995.

Kearns had 6:30 of ice time against Buffalo and was credited with two hits.

"It's never fun to lose," Kearns said. "You always want to have an impact on the game and that didn't really happen tonight. It was a nice feeling getting called up, that's for sure. It would have been nice to get the win."

Buffalo switched up three of its forward lines for this game, but kept intact the trio of Pominville, Vanek and rookie Luke Adam — and that line easily was the most dominant of the game.

Vanek opened the scoring at 2:33 of the second period when he tipped in Pominville's shot from the right circle after Tyler Myers stopped a clearing attempt at the blue line.

Pominville made it 2-0 at 16:56 of the second after Ville Leino batted down Keaton Ellerby's clearing attempt. Leino skated in and fed Pominville across the crease for an easy tap-in. The assist was only the second point of the season for Leino, one of the Sabres' key free agent acquisitions this summer.

"Real nice job," Ruff said. "Ville made a nice play on Pommer's goal and he had the puck a lot. It's going to take a little bit of time, but I thought tonight he played well."

Vanek closed out the scoring with a power-play goal at 17:39 of the third when he blasted a slap shot past Theodore from the right circle.

"When the puck is going in, you don't think as much as you just let it go," Vanek said. "The second one tonight, those are the shots that at least I want to hit the net and know at least where they're going.  
I think the Carolina game I had a couple where I just missed the net and those are the ones that frustrate you."

On this night, though, it was the Panthers who left the building frustrated.

"It started right down at our feet and ended with our heads," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "I don't think we were moving our feet. Tonight we got outworked in our building, which adds some sting here. That's new for our fan base that's been watching us. It's got to stop right now."
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