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Sabres finally have an edge Quick start results in rare early lead, win

There were a few questions to be answered after the Buffalo Sabres actually opened the scoring Friday night.

Could they hold a lead now that they finally had one? Could they follow that icebreaking goal with at least two more for the first time in two weeks? Basically, could they handle prosperity?

A potent first period answered those quickly and gave the Sabres a chance to enjoy their weekend.

The Sabres flashed back to their prior selves for one night, scoring three times in the opening 15 minutes en route to a 4-1 victory over Montreal in HSBC Arena. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and ended a pair of dubious streaks.

The Sabres scored the game's opening goal for the first time in 15 games, falling three shy of the all-time record set by the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. The goal also gave the Sabres their first lead during a game in nine outings, a span that ran an astounding 499 minutes, 41 seconds.

"Scoring the first goal, plus getting the big lead like that, it was definitely something new for us," right wing Drew Stafford said. "We got rewarded for our hard work and the way we've been playing. It feels good."

Clarke MacArthur scored the slump buster 7:59 after the opening faceoff. Derek Roy took a shot that hit goaltender Cristobal Huet in the middle of the chest. The rebound went to MacArthur, and the rookie slipped his shot just inside the far post to get the crowd of 18,690 out of its seat.

"It was probably more relieving than anything," defenseman Nathan Paetsch said. "We've had a lot of first periods like that in previous games, and we haven't come out with anything. Just finally to have that bubble burst, it was a good feeling for us."

Daniel Paille gave the Sabres a 2-0 lead with 7:41 to go in the opening period. Nolan Pratt took a shot from the blue line, and Paille had positioned himself in front to screen Huet. The puck glanced off the forward's knee and found the net.

Three minutes later, the Sabres had their first three-goal lead since routing Washington in the fourth game of the season. Thomas Vanek carried the puck along the right side before dumping it toward the front. It bounced off the right skate of Stafford and past Huet. A brief review proved Stafford never made a kicking motion.

"They were hungrier on the puck in the first," Huet said, "and that's a sign of a team that needed to win desperately."

The goal gave the Sabres three in a game for the first time since a 4-3 overtime loss to Boston at the beginning of the month. They had been shut out twice since then, scored a single goal once and had two-goal outings three times.

A giveaway by captain Toni Lydman allowed the Canadiens to cut their deficit to 3-1, but the Sabres answered to build their lead to three once again. Jochen Hecht worked the puck behind Montreal's net and found MacArthur out front. The rookie quickly had the first two-goal outing of his 24-game career.

Meanwhile, goalie Ryan Miller was busy keeping Montreal off the scoreboard again. He finished with 36 saves, including 18 in the second period.

"I thought Ryan stood tall for us," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "As much as we needed four goals, we needed Ryan to play a big period for us. I thought he did, which was real good to see."

The win gave the Sabres and their fans a chance to celebrate for a few days. The Sabres are off until Wednesday when they host the NHL's best team, the Ottawa Senators.

"We've got a big game coming Wednesday," Ruff said, "and our focus is going to be to use tonight as a steppingstone to get back on the winning track and put together a little string here."



Sabres 4

Canadiens 1

Slap shots: MacArthur scores twice, and first one opens scoring to end Sabres' 14-game slump at start of game. . . . Sabres take regulation lead for first time in nine games. . . . Miller makes 36 saves, including 18 in second period.

Fast fact: Sabres haven't lost four straight since a five-game skid in March 2006.

Next: Ottawa Senators, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in HSBC Arena.

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