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Sabres avert a sweep

To watch the game from start to finish, it didn't seem like a blowout.

Kind of felt like it, though.

Thomas Vanek scored two goals Saturday night to help the Buffalo Sabres beat the Florida Panthers, 5-3, in HSBC Arena. It helped erase the sting of Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal.

"From a work ethic standpoint and skating, we did a lot of great things in the game," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "To bounce back after the dismal 30 minutes we played against Montreal, we did a lot of good things."

J.P. Dumont rang one up against his old junior teammate, Roberto Luongo, and Jiri Novotny scored his first NHL goal to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead. Then ex-Sabres center Chris Gratton notched a goal and an assist in the second period to tie the game.

But Vanek made sure the Sabres wouldn't fade. The rookie winger had a seeing-eye goal late in the second period and tacked on another beauty, this time a wraparound stuff early in the third, to prevent the Panthers from sweeping the season series. They won the first three contests.

"It would be tough to stand here and explain to you guys how they had our number if we had lost tonight," Ruff said.

Ryan Miller stopped 29 shots in front of a sellout crowd of 18,690 to raise his record to 20-7 with an overtime loss. Luongo, the Canadian netminder for the Turin Games, made 30 saves.

The Sabres, winners in seven of their last eight games, will play the Carolina Hurricanes at 5 p.m. today in the RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., before hitting the Olympic break. The Sabres will resume play March 1, when they host the Atlanta Thrashers.

Dumont's eighth goal put the Sabres ahead with 2:31 left in the first period on a shot fans would be more likely to see on a baseball diamond.

He took a cut at a thigh-high pass from Ales Kotalik and sent a one-hopper from between the hash marks over his Val d'Or buddy's shoulder.

Novotny's milestone goal came at 5:02 of the second period, shortly after the Sabres had killed off a Panthers power play. Derek Roy made a behind-the-back pass from below the goal line. Novotny teed up, sending his shot through Luongo's legs.

Streaking winger Jon Sim tied the game at 2 with 3:54 to play in the second period on his sixth goal in four games.

But Buffalo regained the lead with 50 seconds left in the frame, the third consecutive game they scored in the final minute of a period.

Maxim Afinogenov was hooked to the ice, creating a delayed-penalty situation. The prostrate winger still managed to swipe the puck to Vanek at the goal line. Vanek found a sliver of light between Luongo's left elbow and the post and sent the puck through.

"We were more determined this game than the Montreal game, plus we haven't been able to win against these guys, and we should be able to do that," defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. "It feels great to play like that."

Vanek added his 18th goal five minutes into the third period, zipping around the cage and to jam the puck inside the left post.

Rookie winger Jason Pominville scored his 14th on a power play with 3:34 to play, but Panthers defenseman Mike Van Ryn answered 15 seconds later.

"They scored two goals that were more flukes than they were great plays," Tallinder said.

Ruff, whose team allowed short-handed goals in back-to-back games and a league-high 12 for the season, dropped his four-forward power-play philosophy and went with two defensemen on the point on one unit.

"We're running out of forwards to stick back there," said Ruff.


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