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PUPPA BLANKS BLACKHAWKS, 5-0 SABRES SHUT DOWN LEAGUE'S LEADING TEAM BEFORE SELLOUT CROWD IN AUD

Maybe Team Talent is on to something, after all.

The Sabres strongly indicated they are changing their lackluster ways again Friday night by blitzing the league-leading Chicago Blackhawks, 5-0, before a sellout crowd at Memorial Auditorium.

Three of Buffalo's four offensive lines accounted for goals as the Sabres put an impressive number on the scoreboard for the second time in six days. At the other end of the ice, Daren Puppa made 33 saves for his first shutout of the season and the fourth of his career. It was the Sabres' second shutout of the season.

Buffalo seemed poised to crawl from its offensive shell when it routed the Quebec Nordiques, 10-3, in the Aud last Sunday. However, the Sabres followed up by reverting to conservative tactics in Wednesday's 3-3 tie with Boston.

The Blackhawks, like the Bruins, represented another telling test. Chicago leads the National Hockey League with 53 points, takes the body often and allows goals grudgingly. In fact, Chicago is just the kind of team that typically gives the Sabres trouble -- until Friday, that is.

Buffalo took its initial lead with a touch a good fortune and extended it with unfettered resolve. The Sabres matched Chicago's physical tactics, exploited its shortcomings and, with the shutout within reach, gave Puppa their full defensive support. Puppa also had his share of good fortune, as Chicago's Jeremy Roenick hit the goal post with 5:23 left and Puppa down on the ice.

Scoring for Buffalo were Rick Vaive, Christian Ruuttu, Mikko Makela, Mike Hartman and Benoit Hogue. Ruuttu, Makela and Hogue each added an assist, while defenseman Dean Kennedy also figured in a pair of goals.

The three stars went to Puppa, Hogue and Ruuttu.

The Sabres left for New Jersey following the game and will play the Devils at 7:35 tonight at Brendan Byrne Arena (Ch. 29, WGR). Buffalo may play tonight without defenseman Doug Bodger, who appeared to injure his left shoulder while absorbing a third-period check from Steve Thomas.

The Sabres did not rest on their 2-0 first-period lead. Instead, they repeatedly burned the Blackhawks in transition while pumping their advantage to 5-0.

Makela got the first of the period at 4:23 on a slap shot from the left faceoff circle. Makela carried the puck nearly the length of the ice, dodging a discarded stick along his route.

Hartman followed with his fourth at 12:45 on a goal that was 10 percent finesse, 90 percent determination. The finesse part belonged to Hogue, who flashed some dazzling moves to keep the puck in the Chicago end during a Buffalo line change. Hartman and Mogilny came storming into the play, with Hartman eventually chopping a back-hander over the shoulder of goaltender Jacques Cloutier.

Hogue jammed in his 10th at 15:28 after the Blackhawks were slow to re-enter the play following a two-on-one involving Hogue and Ruuttu.

Vaive opened the scoring with his 14th goal at 1:25 on an average wrist shot from a sharp angle that trickled between the pads of Cloutier, a former Sabre.

Vaive snapped the 30-footer from the right side after taking a pass from Dale Hawerchuk.

Ruuttu extended Buffalo's edge to 2-0 with a somewhat controversial goal scored at 7:53. Ruuttu reached near shoulder level to deflect downward and into the goal a shot by Makela. Cloutier immediately sought to have the goal disallowed, claiming Ruuttu touched the puck above shoulder level.

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