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Fighting For Wiggle Room

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres

March 28, 2007
By Brian Wheeler

The Buffalo Sabres showed their resiliency and ability to bounce back from one of the team's worst losses of the season, and even added a little cushioning in the Eastern Conference standings in the process.

Buffalo rallied late with three goals in the third period to take a 4-3 victory over the second seeded team in the East, the New Jersey Devils.

The victory not only rights the Sabres ship following a the horrific 4-1 loss to Toronto on Saturday night, but expands their lead over the Devils in the conference to seven points, leaving them just four points shy of claiming the conference crown.

"It was a really good win for our team," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "The fact that we had to tone down our style of play. That we had to be a lot more patient. I thought we cleaned up a lot of the careless errors and careless turnovers that had been hurting us."

Buffalo was led by a pair of unfamiliar faces. Returning from long-term injuries, both Ales Kotalik and Daniel Paille scored goals in their first game action in almost 40 days. Jochen Hecht rounded out the scoring with a pair of goals, while Ryan Miller turned away 28-of-31 shots.

"To have them either three back or seven back, it was an important win for us," said Ruff regarding his team's lead over New Jersey in the standings. "If they can close it to within three, they're looking at that as a great opportunity to overtake us. They have five games left and we're up seven points, that's a good spread and was a very important win when it comes to the standings."

Hecht extended his points-scoring streak to three games ripping a slapshot from the blueline that found its way to the back of the net through traffic at 1:95 of the first. Hecht's 18th goal of the season gave him three points (2+1) in as many games.

Skating four aside, Scott Gomez cut through the slot and chipped Patrick Elias' rebound over a sprawling Miller to tie the game 1-1 with his 13th goal of the season at 6:42 of the second.

Buffalo opened their attack in the third, outscoring New Jersey 3-2 in the final frame to take the win.

Having not scored since Jan. 17, Paille was due to light the lamp. Collected an unusually long rebound allowed by Martin Brodeur, the rookie stretched and fired just inside the left post to give Buffalo the 2-1 lead at 7:25.

"It was tough at first, missing that many games," said Paille. "I'm just glad to be back in the lineup."

"Danny's a terrific competitor and a great skater," said Ruff. "Some real good offensive opportunities that he had, we needed him to convert on. That's a great step in the right direction tonight."

Paille's third goal of the season comes in the his first game back from a 15-game absence with a broken finger he suffered on Feb. 20. It couldn't have come at a bigger time.

"It put them in a different position," said Hecht of Paille's goal. "They don't want to come from behind. They want to take the lead and bog you down in the neutral zone. To get that goal, it opens up the game a little bit more for us."

Hecht would give Buffalo a two-goal lead five minutes later with his second of the night.

Daniel Briere cut around John Oduya just inside the blueline and feathered a backhand pass to the 29-year-old at the right post for the one-timer at 11:47.

Paul Martin answered for New Jersey beating Miller with a close range backhander at 13:49 to make the score 3-2, but Dainius Zubrus showed why he was so effective centering Alex Ovechkin in Washington to help Buffalo regain a two-goal lead.

Zubrus fired an across-ice, backhand pass which Kotalik rifled past Brodeur for the game-winning goal and his 15th goal of the season at 15:52.

"Those are the types of plays I'm looking for," said Kotalik. "Dainius can get a couple of guys to go to him and then hit the open man. That's exactly what happened twice. The first time, I was unlucky and hit the post. The second one I hit perfect and it turned out to be the game winner for us."

Kotalik missed the previous 14 games with a knee injury that he suffered on Feb. 17. He was pleased with his performance, but not completely happy.

"I felt way better than I expected after six weeks," said Kotalik. "I had my legs underneath me and we created a lot of opportunities. At the same time, I'm still not perfect. There is a lack of timing and some of those bounces I didn't read well. It's just going to come with time."

Stationed to the right side of the net, Zach Parise batted in his own rebound to the far post for his 31st goal of the season at 19:58 to make the score 4-3.

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