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Sabres Thaw February Frost

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres special teams units may have taken Punxsutawney Phil's prediction of an early spring to heart.

The 20th ranked power-play unit in the NHL thawed from its frosty six for 25 stretch in its last five games to score Buffalo's first three goals in a 4-3 shootout victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night.

"I liked this game as much as I liked any game in recent weeks," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "From a battle and chance standpoint, I liked the way we came out. Our special teams were really good.

"Overall, we're happy with that performance."

The winter chill sweeping the Northeast was evident in Buffalo's cool start to the month of February. The Sabres had failed to score on 90% of their power plays in the last two games. The unit saw a global-warming effect on Tuesday night, scoring on three-of-five opportunities.

"It's funny. We spent a lot of time on it and then backed away from it for a good period of time," said Ruff regarding the Sabres power-play preparation time. "I think we practiced it once since the All-Star break. But you really just need to get a few bounces."

Scoring more than a pair of power-play goals for just the third time this season, Buffalo was led by Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere with a pair of goals. Thomas Vanek recorded Buffalo's second goal with less than three minutes remaining in the second period.

"There was a lot of up and down play," said Briere. "There wasn't very much trapping, obviously there was some, but it was a lot less than what we've seen in the past."

In the shootout, Briere and Ales Kotalik each beat Kari Lehtonen on Buffalo's first two attempts, while Slava Kozlov fired wide left with a backhander and Marian Hossa was stuffed by Ryan Miller, who earned his first decision in his last four starts with 27 saves. The victory served as a little slice of revenge on the Thrashers, who ended Buffalo's 10-game winning streak with a shootout victory by the same score on October 28.

Buffalo held a one-goal lead heading into the third period, only to see a power-play goal by Thrashers captain Scott Mellanby midway through the period even the score 3-3. Buffalo was out shot 3-1 in overtime.

"Lately, we had been sitting back and we got burned many times," said Briere of his team's play in the third period. "It was very frustrating. What I like was even when they scored to tie the game, we came back strong and had some really good shifts after that; where in the past few games we had sat back."

Moving into the slot from the point, Nathan Paetsch's one-timer deflected off Bobby Holik and then the chest of Briere, who batted the puck out of mid-air into the net to give the Sabres the 1-0 lead at 8:01 of the first.

Just 39 seconds later, one of the deadliest snipers in the league tied the game.

From the high slot, Ilya Kovalchuk fired a blistering wristshot low stick side on Miller to record his 31st goal of the season and second in as many games at 8:40.

Skating down the wing, John Sim fired through traffic and Henrik Tallinder's legs, catching Miller with a shot just inside the right post at 13:23 to give Atlanta the 2-1 lead.

Vanek tied the game with his 26th goal of the season.

Accepting a pass from Teppo Numminen at the Atlanta blueline, Vanek banked a fierce wristshot of the left post to record his 11th power-play goal and snap a two-game scoreless streak at 17:13 of the middle frame. Miller recorded his second helper of the season with the second assist.

Briere buries his second power-play goal of the night over Lehtonen's shoulder to regain the Buffalo lead at 18:48 of the second.

Camped at the left post, Mellanby swatted Marian Hossa's across-crease pass
Game Summary | Super Stats | Face-offs | Play-by-Play | Shift Chart
Quotes and audio courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.
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