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Sabres Return to Form

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres winning formula has been consistent all season. Buffalo's success has relied on strong special teams play, solid goaltending and a stronger work ethic than the opposition. Facing the prospect of the team's first three-game losing streak since early November, Buffalo returned to that formula to defeat the New York Rangers 2-1 on Tuesday night.

The Sabres killed off four of five man-down situations, scored a power-play goal and outshot the blueshirts 26-24 as the team continues to have the Rangers number. In three games against their interstate rivals, Buffalo has claimed five of a possible six points with the team's only loss coming in a shootout.

"You look at that game and we totally dominated," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "We had them with four scoring chances the whole game, and if it wasn't for their goaltender in the first period, they should have been down 5-0.

"The way we responded after the Calgary game ... that win means a lot to us."

With only Eastern Conference foes remaining on the schedule, each game has become increasingly important. With the victory, Buffalo is tied with the Rangers for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with 63 points.

"I said this morning, we were going to be ready to play," said Ruff. "I think we are a pretty strong group on the inside, and we can look each other in the eyes and say that performance (in Calgary) wasn't good enough.

"That's a big step in the right direction that you can play that way and come back two nights later and win a hockey game."

The Sabres received goals from a pair of forwards who had been stifled in the last two weeks. Thomas Vanek snapped a six game scoreless streak with a power-play goal in the first and Ales Kotalik ended a four-game skid with the game-winner in the third.

"At different times, different players get frustrated and that was a nice game for Kotalik," said Ruff. "I would really like to see him build on that."

Maxim Afinogenov didn't break onto the scoresheet but was arguable the best Sabre on the ice. Afinogenov finished the game with six shots on goal, three or four drawn penalties and a slew of scoring opportunities.

Bringing a combined 78 games of experience to the ice, netminders Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundqvist played spectacularly in net and looked like seasoned veterans.

Miller made 23 saves in his 14th victory of the season, including a great kick save on Martin Rucinsky's breakaway offering with two minutes remaining in the second period. The Sabres rookie netminder has allowed just a single goal in seven of 11 starts since returning from injury on December 19.

"A win is a win," said Miller. "(Allowing just one goal) is just fine by me. Today we just needed the one and I guess that's a good number to have when we score two."

Not to be outdone, Lundvqist stuffed Daniel Paille's one-time with his right arm while diving back to the right post and used a poke check to stop Afinogenov with just 50 seconds remaining in the first after the Russian broke on a breakaway during four-on-four play. He finished with contest with 24 stops.

"We had breakaways, odd-number rushes and Lundvqist made a couple saves that were accidental, but he still made them," said Ruff.

On the injury front, the Sabres saw the return of one forward but lost another for an extended period of time.

JP Dumont returned to action for the first time since November 17 and saw over eight minutes of ice time, while Tim Connolly was sidelined following a low hip check by defenseman Darius Kasparaitis in the second period.

Dumont's return after being out for six weeks following surgery for a sports hernia was ahead of schedule, while Connolly's sprained knee may sideline the center for six to eight weeks.

"I'm upset," said Ruff. "Kasparaitis went low on him. I think that if you are going to go low, show a little bit of guts when you are challenged by another guy and don't hit the deck."

Following the hit, Kasparaitis was charged by Sabres co-captain Chris Drury but would drop the gloves. Half a period later, Mike Grier attempted to poke and prod Kasparaitis into an altercation. Both times, the Sabres players were assessed two minute penalties with no repercussion to the Rangers.

"That's two guys I've seen him sort of accidentally hurt in the last two nights," continued Ruff, referring to Connolly and Grant Marshall of the New Jersey Devils. "It's amazing how he can accidentally do it all the time.

"For us to lose a player like that because Kasparaitis wants to go low and cut his knees out ... that's a joke."

For the 27th time this season, Buffalo scored the opening goal of the game. Vanek collected Kotalik's rebound and flipped the puck over a downed Lundqvist to give the Sabres the 1-0 lead at 12:57 of the first.

Vanek, who was allowed to screen the netminder without molestation, simple faced the net on the blast and slapped in the garbage goal for his eighth on the man-advantage.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 30th goal of the season on the power play with a wristshot from the slot above Miller's glove to tie the game just four minutes into the second.

As defenseman Marek Malik attempted to clear the puck out of New York's zone, Jason Pominville deflected the Malik's pass. The redirect went to Kotalik, who drove to the net and snapped a wristshot on the short side for his 19th of the season.
Scoresheet | Super Stats | Faceoff Comp | Play By Play | Shift Chart

Period 1
1-0 (12:57): Thomas Vanek chips in Ales Kotalik's rebound on the power-play to give Buffalo the lead. Vanek was screening Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist on Kotalik's blast from the point. The tally is Vanek's eighth on the man-advantage, 13th of the season and first goal in six games. Kotalik and Teppo Numminen record the asssists.

Period 2
1-1 (6:55): Jaromir Jagr snaps a quick wristshot from the slot that beats Ryan Miller on his glove side. The power-play goal is Jagr's 30th of the season. Fedor Tyutin and Martin Rucinsky record the assists.

Period 3
2-1 (1:53): Following a Marek Malik turnover caused by Jason Pominville, Ales Kotalik snaps a wristshot on the shortside that skips over Lunqvist's blocker. The goal is Kotalik's first in four games and 19th of the season. Pominville gets the only helper.
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio station of the Buffalo Sabres.
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