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WINGS INCH FORWARD WITH VICTORY IN SHOOTOUT

A win is a win, but in Roller Hockey International some are more rewarding than others.

Take the Buffalo Wings' 8-7 shootout victory over the Ottawa Wheels Thursday night. It pleased most of the 2,648 on hand in Marine Midland Arena but didn't totally satisfy the Wings.

With a clear-cut victory, Buffalo would have moved within five points of the fourth-place Wheels in the Eastern Conference of RHI. Instead, the Wheels got a point in the standings for the shootout loss and own a six-point advantage over Buffalo. The Wings have seven games left to close that gap.

"It's too bad we gave them a point," said forward Chris Palmer, who had a pair of goals and four assists in the victory. He also scored in the five-man tiebreaker shootout, which Buffalo won, 2-0.

Exhausted after making 42 saves in the 48 minutes of regulation, Wings goalie Nick Vitucci then stopped four Ottawa attempts in the shootout. Four of Buffalo's five victories this season have come via shootouts. Vitucci won three of them.

Ken Blum and Palmer converted on Buffalo's first two attempts in the shootout. When Vitucci got a pad on an attempt by Jocelyn Langlois, the fourth Ottawa shooter, it closed out the Wheels.

As soon as it ended, Vitucci dashed for the dressing room and a refreshing shower. He had nearly been overcome by heat in the closing minutes of the game.

"I was battling the heat," Vitucci said. "When we called our timeout (with 3:05 left), I came in here and (threw up). You just don't get a chance to cool down. With the mask, it's like a furnace."

If they could learn to hold a lead, the Wings might have won it outright. But they blew the 5-0 lead they had built in the first 15:24. Four of the five Buffalo goals came on the power play.

After closing to 7-5 after three quarters, the Wheels tied it on goals by Dan Bousquet and Martin Woods, the latter with 7:25 left.

After outshooting Ottawa, 16-11, in the opening period, the Wings were outgunned, 38-18, in the final 36 minutes.

Buffalo's Andy Rymsha had a goal and four assists, despite missing 10 minutes of the third period because of a misconduct penalty. Kory Karlander scored a pair of goals.

Stephane Larocque had a goal and four assists for coach Jocelyn Guevremont's Wheels.

Buffalo's next two games are on the road, against Montreal Sunday and Ottawa Wednesday.

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