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A Shootout Specialist

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres have good reason to exude confidence when they enter a shootout. Buffalo boasts the best shootout goaltender in the National Hockey League, which means they usually win. Saturday night wasn't any different.

Goaltender Ryan Miller stuffed all three shooters - his last a beautiful toe save on Kristian Huselius - and Ales Kotalik beat Miikka Kiprusoff to give Buffalo yet another shootout victory, a 3-2 decision over the Calgary Flames at HSBC Arena.

"A little bit," said Daniel Briere when asked if he was surprised when the team doesn't win a shootout. "Knowing that Ryan is probably going to stop all three shooters gives us a lot of confidence."

Miller leads the NHL with nine shootout wins this season and holds a career record of 12-4. He made 23 saves in regulation in his 26th victory of the season.

His presence in the crease seems to gives his teammates a boost by allowing them to make a mistake if they get creative.

"I remember last year when the shootout started that I was really nervous," said Briere. "I didn't have very good efforts because of that. But now with Ryan back there, I know for myself, it calms me down. I just try to enjoy it."

It also doesn't hurt that the Sabres have enough offensive firepower to drive an opposing goaltender crazy.

Buffalo's depth of talent this season has become extremely apparent once overtime concludes. Kotalik and Briere each score on more than 60 percent of their attempts.

"As far as our guys creativity, it's endless," said Miller. "These guys are always working on things in practice. They have go-to moves and you see a lot of them out there. But Daniel Briere is a prime example. He gets in close and he can still change his mind.

"We've got some guys that are really talented and we feel good about getting that far."

Buffalo has won an astounding nine out of 11 shootouts this season, good for a share of the league lead with Minnesota, who had nine wins in 13 shootouts entering Saturday.

On the other end of the spectrum is Calgary, who joins Carolina, Florida and San Jose as the only teams to yet record a victory in the showdown. While Buffalo has held strong with the same four shooters, Briere, Kotalik, Maxim Afinogenov and Thomas Vanek, the Flames have given 11 different players a chance to shine when it matters most.

Bryon Ritchie, who has recorded eight goals and five assists in 47 games this season, is Calgary's top sniper with two goals in three chances.

"We've been playing a lot closer to playoff hockey and the way we want to be playing headed late into the season," said Miller. "It was a great test because that was going to be the type of games that we are going to see more and more of as we get to the end of the regular season."

With just over three minutes remaining in regulation, Briere tied the game with his 24th of the season. After Jochen Hecht was squeezed out along the boards, Briere collected the loose puck and snapped a wristshot top shelf to make the score 2-2.

Vanek scored Buffalo's first goal of the game with three minutes left in the second period to tie the score 1-1.

Both of Calgary's goals came with the man advantage. Huselius fired a wristshot past Miller at 3:45 of the second, while David Moss gave Calgary a one-goal lead after chipping Roman Hamrlik's bouncing feed out of mid-air at 7:53 of the third.

Buffalo has now won their last three games.
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