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Something Unheard Of

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
Mika Noronen couldn't have played a much better game. Unfortunately, the Tampere, Finland native suffered a groin injury with eight minutes remaining in regulation that forced him to be removed from the shootout after getting beaten by Martin Straka on New York's first attempt.

"In a shootout, you have to defend big moves and move laterally, so Lindy decided to take me out," said Noronen, who made 25 saves in the contest. "I think it was a good decision, but it's not easy for Marty (Biron) to go in cold and face (Jaromir) Jagr and (Michael) Nylander."

Nylander and Jagr each scored on Biron, who didn't face a single shot during the game, while Kevin Weekes stopped Chris Drury on the Sabres third and final shootout attempt to defeat Buffalo 3-2 in front of a crowd of 16,018.

"Mika was hurt and trying to finish the game," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff of his starting goaltender. "I think it probably even hurt him on the game-tying goal because he was having a hard time getting up."

"That's the first time in my career that I came into a shootout without facing anything," said Biron, who takes the overtime loss. "It was a little different."

Going into overtime, Noronen let Ruff know that he would accept whatever decision was made. He was forced to make just one save in the extra period and after gingerly attempting the save on the first attempt, Ruff made the switch.

"After watching the first one and him not wanting to go down, I could tell he was favoring it," said Ruff.

"You've got to be happy that you got at least one point out of the game, but it's disappointing to lose after playing toe-to-toe for 65 minutes," said Noronen.

Due to the injury, Michael Leighton, who was acquired from Chicago on October 4th in exchange for winger Milan Bartovic, will join the team in New York tomorrow.

Daniel Briere and Ales Kotalik each scored on Buffalo's first two shootout attempts, beating Weekes with almost identical moves. Both faked to the backhand before scoring with a forehand wristshot.

The only difference was Kotalik lifted the puck over Weekes' leg while Briere slid the puck along the ice.

"We worked hard and battled," said Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. "It was a fun and exciting game and there were a lot of hits. We just have to be a little more hungry tomorrow."

The Sabres, who entered the game as the second-least penalized team in the league, where whistled four times in the first period and spent eight of the game's opening 13 minutes on the penalty kill.

Buffalo's special teams units played extremely well, killing all six New York power plays and converting one of five man-advantage opportunities.

"For the most part, our penalty kill did an awesome job against a very good power play," said Ruff. "Our power play got one when we needed it."

Buffalo capitalized on a pair of New York mistakes to take a 1-0 lead in the first period. Tom Poti was called for hooking and Ville Nieminen tripped Briere during the delayed penalty to give Buffalo a two-man advantage with a little more than 13 minutes left in the period.

With 0:47 left in the power play, Maxim Afinogenov slide a pass to Drury, who was parked in the high slot, for a one-timer and his fifth goal of the season.

On an odd-man rush, Jaromir Jagr tied the game with a one-timer from the right wing off an across-ice pass from Martin Straka at 12:56.

Noronen made two miraculous saves on his back to keep the score even at 1-1 heading into the second intermission.

Defenseman Jay McKee gave Buffalo the 2-1 lead with a slap shot from the blueline that beat New York goaltender Kevin Weekes over his left shoulder for his second of the year. McKee hasn't scored more than two goals in a single season since he recorded career-high five tallies during the 1999-00 campaign.

Nylander sent the game into overtime, scoring on Jagr's rebound on the right wing with just four minutes remaining in regulation.

The Sabres honored one of the team's legendary players prior to the game, retiring Danny Gare's number #18. Gare joins Tim Horton, Rene Robert, Rick Martin and Gilbert Perreault as the only Sabres to have their numbers retired. Pat LaFontaine will join that exclusive club on March 3, 2006.

Buffalo to New York tonight to face the Islanders tomorrow at 7:00 PM.
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