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Max Is Back, Sabres Win 4-2

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres are completely different team when Maxim Afinogenov is in the lineup. Returning to the ice for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury against the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 4, Afinogenov was a shot of adrenaline.

It took just six minutes and one power play for Buffalo and the Pittsburgh Penquins to know that the Russian had returned.

Stationed on the right post with a two-man advantage, Afinogenov one-timed Daniel Briere's across-crease pass to score his ninth goal of the season, and gave the Sabres the 1-0 lead, just over six minutes into the game. Afinogenov finished the night with a goal and an assist, leading Buffalo to a 4-2 win over Pittsburgh at HSBC Arena on Friday night. Chris Drury also registered a goal and an assist.

"The whole team played pretty well today," said Afinogenov, whose team has now posted a 16-2-1 record through 19 games. "We got two power-play goals that really helped, the penalty kill was good and Marty (Biron) had some huge saves."

"To get Max back is a big plus," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "If you look back at it, he was our leading scorer when he went down. Max gave us instant energy."

"It's nice having him back," said defenseman Brian Campbell, who once again led the Sabres in ice time with 29:57. "He's a scary player for the other team."

Afinogenov helped boost the Sabres power-play unit out of its worst rut of the season. In the last ten games, Buffalo was eight of 56 with the man advantage.

On Friday night with Afinogenov and Drury reaping the rewards, Buffalo scored on 50 per cent of their opportunities for the first time since October 17 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"We talked a lot about it and had a good amount of meetings," said Campbell of the power play. "It's going to come, the talent is there. There is no reason it shouldn't come.

"You're going to go through those spells, but hopefully now we can turn a corner and go with it."

Biron rebounded from his first loss of the season, a 4-2 decision against Ottawa on Wednesday night, with 34 saves against the Penguins. His Dominik-Hasek impression against Nils Ekman - charging from the net to dive at the shooters feet - showed his confidence in net.

"I've gotten better each game that I've been in there," said Biron, who has won seven of eight starts this season. "My timing has gotten to where I want it to be now."

"Marty was very good," said Ruff. "I mentioned that he could have used that move earlier in the year."

Thomas Vanek and Ales Kotalik rounded out the scoring for Buffalo.

Afinogenov scores his first goal on his first power-play since returning from injury at 6:06 of the first to give Buffalo the 1-0 lead.

After a flurry of activity in front of the net, Vanek turned his own rebound into Buffalo's second goal at nine minutes even. After four point-blank shots and subsequent saves by Jocelyn Thibault, Vanek collected the puck at the left face-off dot, spun and fired over the downed netminder for his 13th goal of the season.

Buffalo scored their second power-play goal of the night after cleaning up in front once again. Drury netted his 11th of the season after flipping Jason Pominville's rebound over Thibault's left pad to give the Sabres a three-goal lead at 11:28 of the second.

Sidney Crosby scores Pittsburgh's first goal of the game and his eighth of the season after receiving a feed from Mark Recchi and driving to the left post. Crosby beat Biron shortside with a wristshot at 15:14 of the second to make the score 3-1 in favor of Buffalo.

Crosby scores his second goal after punching Recchi's rebound over Biron's left pad with Thibault on the bench to bring Pittsburgh within a goal at 18:59 of the third.

Kotalik gets the empty netter with 10 seconds remaining in regulation.
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