"Other guys stepping up, is a big part of the season," said center Paul Gaustad, who centers the Sabres fourth line. "Key players are going to get injured, so you need everyone to contribute when that happens. I think that really shows the character of our team."
With leading-scorer Daniel Briere and veteran JP Dumont out of the line-up with abdominal strains, Gaustad, Maxim Afinogenov and Ales Kotalik each recorded goals for Buffalo as the streaking Sabres have now claimed 17 of a possible 20 points in the team's last ten games.
"We've gotten seven and a half points out of eight," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "Right now, we need to refocus and set some new goals, but you've got to give the players a lot of credit. I'm impressed by the way they've played."
"We responded after the poor play at the beginning of the season," said Gaustad of the team's 1-7-0 stint beginning towards the end of October. "Hard work can be attributed to the turnaround."
The victory snapped a seven-game winless streak in Mellon Arena for Buffalo dating back to December 2, 2000.
Normally a disciplined club, the Sabres found themselves in the penalty box and hot water throughout most of the game.
Buffalo's penalty kill unit allowed just a single power-play goal off a season-high nine power-play chances for their opponent but according to Gaustad, the team barely escaped a bad situation.
"Against that club, we have to be more disciplined," said Gaustad. "They are so talented that we are lucky they didn't take advantage of those power plays, but we toughed out a tough road win."
The Sabres had entered the game as the second most disciplined team in the league, averaging just 12.3 penalty minutes per game, while their power-play unit has now killed 46 of their opponent's last 53 man-advantage opportunities
"We know we probably didn't play our best game, but it's great to get two points when you're not at your best," said Gaustad. "We just found a way to win."
Following the game, Ruff praised his top defensive pair, who faced Mario Lemieux's line for most of the night and didn't allow an even-strength goal when #66 was on the ice.
"(Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman) did a great job," said Ruff. "They were great with their sticks and body position. There were a couple of instances where it seemed like Pittsburgh as going to skate by them but their mobility was the key to keeping those offensive chances away."
Matt Murley scores his first goal of the season after collecting a puck that ricocheted off the boards behind the net and flinging a quick shot past Sabres goaltender Martin Biron to give Pittsburgh the lead at 4:59 of the first.
Buffalo answered seven minutes later as Afinogenov slaps Derek Roy
's rebound past Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game. The goal is Afinogenov's fourth of the season and with his assist on Kotalik's goal in the third period, his fourth point in two games.
Gaustad gave Buffalo their first lead of the game, 2-1, with a slapshot from the right wing that beats Fleury on the short side. Fleury was moving laterally on the play and the puck just slide between his blockers.
That goal wasn't the only instance that Gaustad found the net when the Pens' rookie goalie is playing. In Buffalo's 3-2 overtime victory over Pittsburgh on October 10, the Fargo, ND native scored his first NHL-goal against Fleury in HSBC Arena.
John LeClair ties the game on the power play less than two minutes into the third period with his sixth goal of the season.
Heavily guarded on the power play all night, Kotalik found some space on the left wing above the face-off circle and fired a wrist shot that beat Fleury for the game-winner.
"It was just a read on his part to try to find the hole," said Ruff of Kotalik's goal. "(Pittsburgh) did they're homework and didn't want him shooting the puck, but he found a way to sneak a shot in."
Kotalik, who ranks third in the league with nine man-advantage goals, is one of the major factors why Buffalo has scored at least one power-play goal in 18 of the last 19 games.
The Sabres will travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens on Thursday night. Puck drop is schedule for 7:30 PM.
----------------------------------- SCORING REPORTS
| Super Stats
| Faceoff Comp
| Play By Play
| Shift Chart GAME BLOG:
0-1 (4:59): Matt Murley beats Martin Biron with a quick shot on the shot side after the puck rebounded off the boards to give Pittsburgh the early lead. The goal is Murley's first of the season. Mark Recchi and John LeClair record the assists.
1-1 (11:56): During 4-on-4 play, Maxim Afinogenov slaps in Derek Roy
's rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game. Roy's rebound shot straight up in the air after hitting Fleury. Roy and Dmitri Kalinin get the helpers. The goal is Afinogenov's fourth of the season. Period 2
2-1 (11:41): Paul Gaustad rips a shot from the left wing that beats Marc-Andre Fleury and gives Buffalo their first lead of the game. The goal is Gaustad's fourth of the season. Assists are credited to Chris Drury and Jay McKee. Period 3
2-2 (1:33): Off a give-and-go with Mark Recchi, John LeClair ties the game with the first power-play goal of the game less than two minutes into the final period of play. The goal is LeClair sixth of the season and first in eight games. Mark Recchi registers his second assist of the contest, while Sergei Gonchar gets his first.
3-2 (5:43): Ales Kotalik rips a wrist shot from the left face-off circle between Marc-Andre Fleury's legs to give Buffalo the lead. The marker is Kotalik's ninth power-play goal of the season. Maxim Afinogenov and Teppo Numminen get the helpers.
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.