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Unusual Success In Jersey

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
Neither the Buffalo Sabres nor their netminder has seen much success against the New Jersey Devils in recent years.

Entering Tuesday night's contest, Buffalo hadn't won a game in the Continental Airlines Arena since February 22, 2001 and Ryan Miller hadn't defeated the Devils in four career starts.

Boasting the league's best road record, Buffalo broke an eight game losing streak in New Jersey as the team finished its season-long, five-game road trip with a 3-2 record after defeating the Devils 3-2. Buffalo returns to HSBC Arena this Thursday to meet the Florida Panthers, the team that handed them a 3-1 loss on December 7. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Making his 11th consecutive start, Miller recorded his first career victory against the Devils after stopping 31-of-33 shots. New Jersey made the game interesting and ruined Miller's shutout bid by scoring two goals in the final 40 seconds of regulation.

"It was the one thing we were disappointed in," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff concerning the missed shutout opportunity. "[Miller's] effort was really good and you would always like to reward your goaltender with a shutout. The way we played, I thought we deserved it."

Utilizing their speed, Buffalo scored three unanswered goals through their transition attack and the work of the team's only playing co-captain, Daniel Briere. Chris Drury missed his first game this season as he was sidelined with the flu.

"We were a little sluggish in the first, but we didn't give up a lot," said Ruff. "We played our best defensive game of the year."

"We knew coming in that it was going to be one of those boring games where you just had to be patient and wait for your chances," said Briere. "It's huge for us to win in this building because since I've been a Sabre, we've never played well here."

On an odd-man rush, Jochen Hecht scored his seventh of the season to give Buffalo the 1-0 lead after charging the net and converting the rebound off Briere's shot from the slot at 12:05 of the second period.

The goal was Hecht's first in six games, ending his longest goal-scoring drought of the season.

"We put a lot of work in for this game," said Ruff. "We went over every angle [in preparation] and knew that New Jersey had only lost one game at home and that we hadn't won here in forever."

Briere initiated Buffalo's offensive attack that resulted in their second goal when he stripped Brian Rafalski in the neutral zone on the forecheck.

Breaking into the New Jersey zone, Briere fed Maxim Afinogenov for the one-timer, his 13th goal of the season and a two-goal Sabres lead at 3:12 of the third.

Afinogenov is one of the few Sabres who enjoys playing against New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur. In 18 games against the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Afinogenov has scored eight goals, his most against any NHL netminder. Brodeur finished the game making 21-of-24 saves.

"I sent the message the team, we may have to win this thing 1-0," said Ruff. "It's very tough to beat their goaltender cleanly. Max's goal was just a great shot and even he can't defend that."

Out skating Rafalski to a loose puck, Briere recorded his third assist of the game after slipping an across-crease pass to Jason Pominville at the right post for the easy redirect and the second-year professional's second goal in the last 13 games at 5:29.

Erik Rasmussen batted Jim Dowd's rebound out of the air for his second goal of the season with 39.5 seconds on the clock to make the score 3-1, while Brian Gionta tipped Patrik Elias' shot from the point 20 seconds later for his 13th goal of the season.
Quotes courtesy of WGR 550-AM, the official radio partner of the Buffalo Sabres.
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