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Patience pays off for Ruff Power-play unit comes through

While Lindy Ruff was holding court with the media Friday morning, he said one trait he's shown in abundance this season is patience. The Buffalo Sabres have had their share of troubles, but Ruff was proud of the fact he's stuck with guys.

One group of guys in particular skates on the power play. The unit featuring Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek and Maxim Afinogenov got off to an atrocious start. Ruff kept them together, and the patience was rewarded Friday with a third straight victory.

Roy and Vanek each scored on the power play, and Vanek's goal with 8:33 to play sent the Sabres off to Montreal with a 4-2 victory over the Canadiens in HSBC Arena. The teams meet again tonight in the Bell Centre.

"Everything is starting to kick in a little bit here," Vanek said. "Obviously, it's not what you want in that it's six, seven weeks too late. Better late than never."

The Vanek unit allowed the Sabres to upstage the NHL's best power play. Montreal entered the day ranked first in the NHL with a 28.2 percent success rate -- well ahead of second-place Dallas' 24.7 percent. But the Sabres went 2 for 3 with the man advantage while Montreal was 1 for 6.

"We knew that was going to be important, and our penalty kill has been strong," Ruff said.

The Sabres' power play was a middle-of-the-pack 14th at 18.5 percent, due in part to a bad start by the Roy group. It took that unit 12 games to get its opening five-on-four goal. But they have five now, including three in the past two victories.

"We knew it would happen," Roy said. "We had tremendous chances on the power play, and it just wasn't going in. We stuck with it."

It was that group that gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead. Afinogenov collected a pass along the right boards, rifled the puck to the slot, and Roy deflected it home with 8:56 gone in the first.

The Sabres increased their lead to 2-0 midway through the second period on a goal by Tim Connolly.

Montreal's vaunted power play finally struck two minutes later, but it appeared to catch a break. Captain Saku Koivu had a bump with Ryan Miller as the goaltender made a save, and Miller had to scramble to get to his skates. Meanwhile, Christopher Higgins collected the rebound and ripped a shot past Miller.

The play incensed the goaltender. He hinted that the referees didn't call a penalty as a form of retribution for a comment he made earlier.

"His explanation was I was yelling at him about a gloved puck in the first period," Miller said. "That's all he said to me after that, so I'm really confused as to why he wasn't watching my crease.

"Koivu does it every night. All the refs here should know that he's going to come and touch the goalie at least once a night, or make it look like he got pushed in. It's pretty obvious, and it's every year, every season, every game. I don't see how the refs cannot know players. They ref enough."

The Canadiens, who were 0-4-1 when trailing after two periods, tied it early in the third when Tomas Plekanec scored a breakaway goal.

But Vanek and his power-play mates scored the winner with 8:33 to go. Vanek tipped defenseman Nathan Paetsch's shot, and Montreal goalie Carey Price lost sight of the rebound. Vanek recovered and went to his backhand to end a seven-game scoring drought.

"A lot of the same plays we were doing before are finally starting to go for us," Paetsch said. "Hopefully, that's the start of a lot of great things."
Daniel Paille ended the suspense with an empty-netter with 13.1 seconds left. The victory put the Sabres in position to end their nine-game run within the Northeast Division at 5-4; they started 1-4.

"We've got to keep winning our division games," Paetsch said. "Those are four-point games for us."


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