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Vanek, Sabres end Rangers' perfect start

by John Kreiser
Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff made a little history at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. The New York Rangers came up short.

Ruff earned his 400th coaching victory — all with Buffalo — as the unbeaten Sabres skated away with a 3-1 victory — ending the Rangers' team record-tying five-game winning streak to open the season.

Thomas Vanek scored twice for the second time in three days as the Sabres improved to 3-0-0. Scott Gomez had the only goal for the Rangers, who had won their first five games for the first time since setting the team record for fastest start in 1983.

But the Rangers showed little of the crispness they had exhibited in their 5-0-0 start, while the Sabres had their third consecutive strong showing.


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"It seemed like we were a bit sloppy tonight, and a good team like Buffalo will take advantage of that," Rangers captain Chris Drury said of his former team. "I thought we came out with good energy, but just kind of faded."

The Sabres were very aware of the Rangers' early hot streak.

''We all heard about how good the Rangers are, and they are really good,'' Vanek said. ''They're off to a great start, so it's good for us to come in here and play a solid a road game and give up only one goal."

Ruff, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, became the 23rd coach in League history to reach 400 victories.

''I've had a lot of good players and a lot of good teams,'' the former Sabre and Ranger said in downplaying the accomplishment.

The game started out as if the Rangers would roll to a sixth consecutive victory when Scott Gomez deflected in Michal Rozsival's slap shot 6:33 into the game to put the Rangers in front. But they mustered little offense the rest of the way. New York managed only nine shots though two periods and 19 overall against Ryan Miller, who has allowed just two goals in winning both of his starts. The Sabres have outscored their opponents 12-3 in their three wins.

"We had a decent start, then we backed off," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "We didn't work hard; we didn't get pucks to the net."

Buffalo tied it when Ales Kotalik snapped New York's streak of 23 consecutive penalty kills to start the season. Kotalik he poked the puck through a maze of legs in the crease and managed to get it to trickle between Henrik Lundqvist's pads at 6:32 of the second period.

Vanek put the Sabres ahead to stay with a power-play goal at 12:30, knocking in Derek Roy's rebound. The Sabres took advantage of a major penalty to Rangers' defenseman Paul Mara, who dropped the gloves and went after Patrick Kaleta following a hard hit along the boards. The two had history from last year, when a hit by Kaleta caused fractures in Mara's face and knocked him out of the lineup for 12 games.

"Maybe he wanted to engage, maybe he wanted to have a scrap, and maybe he wanted to start it and get the best of him; but the other kid made a decision not to fight," Renney said of Mara’s penalty.

The Rangers had a chance to get even when Sabres captain Craig Rivet took a four-minute penalty for high-sticking 14 seconds into the third period. Instead, the Sabres broke out into the Rangers' zone on a shorthanded 2-on-1 and Vanek finished off a crisp pass from Daniel Paille to give Buffalo a two-goal lead.

"Obviously that was a big moment in the game," said Lundqvist, who finished with 15 saves. "I had lost sight of the guy who eventually shot the puck, and that was a big goal."

It was the second shorthanded goal in as many games and the first two of his career for Vanek, who had rarely killed penalties before this season.
'Lindy has been giving me some responsibilities and I am going to take my challenge positively and hopefully I can stay on it," said Vanek, who now has five goals in three games. "I'm actually trying not to give up any when I'm out there. The two shorties are just a bonus."
For the Rangers, it's back to the drawing board. They'd like the same followup that the 1983 team showed after losing for the first time after a 5-0-0 start — four more victories.

"I know that this is a group of guys that badly wants to do well," Renney said of his team. "They want to play the game in a way that the fans and they can be proud of, but it’s not going to go your way every night."

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