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It wasn't very artistic. It wasn't overly entertaining. It was badly needed.

It all refers to the Buffalo Sabres' 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens before 15,237 Friday night in Marine Midland Arena.

The Sabres had lost their last two games in embarrassing fashion, and coach Lindy Ruff had promised major changes if the team's effort and performance didn't improve.

The effort was there and the result was a big improvement, even if the Sabres didn't turn in a top performance.

"We faced one of the best teams in the NHL," said goalie Dominik Hasek, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season. "We had a hard practice (Thursday), and everyone was ready. I don't think we played our best game, but there was not one player who didn't work hard and give 100 percent. It was nice to see the team work so hard."

Hasek certainly could be included on that list. He faced 42 shots, setting a Sabre record for most saves in a shutout during the regular season. The old record was 38, held by Hasek against the Tampa Bay Lightning two weeks ago and by Gerry Desjardins in November 1976.

"He was solid," Ruff said about Hasek's play. "The one thing he really did well was control a lot of rebounds. . . . He didn't roam far from the net. I thought he was extremely sharp."

Montreal's 42-20 edge in shots was a little deceptive in that the Sabres did a relatively good job of keeping the Canadiens away from good shooting position for most of the night.

The Sabres' defensive effort was reflected in the fact that both Mike Wilson and Dixon Ward took shots to the head but returned to play.

"They had many shots, but I saw almost all of them," Hasek said. "I mean, my team was blocking shots with their faces. I really appreciate their effort."

After an evenly played and scoreless first period, the Sabres struck at 2:42 of the second. Vaclav Varada had the puck on the right wing during a Buffalo rush into the Montreal zone and floated a pass over three Canadiens' sticks to Donald Audette. The winger knocked home his eighth.

"I felt the backchecking behind me, and I heard Donald calling from in front of the net," said Varada, who recorded his first NHL point on the play. "I flicked the pass because (Montreal goalie Andy) Moog plays the puck so well on the ice, and he (Audette) put it in."

The Sabres were guilty of sitting back a little too much after that, acting as if they were protecting a one-goal lead for a few minutes rather than the 37 that were still on the clock. Buffalo was outshot, 34-8, for the rest of the game.

"We knew they were going to come on, and we gave them too much respect," Audette said. "We didn't forecheck enough. I think we didn't want to get caught defensively."

The start of the third period must have looked rather familiar to the Sabres. They had a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes for the third time in their last five games, and in the other two games they had blown the lead.

"It was even in my head," Hasek said. "I said to myself, 'it's already happened twice. It cannot happen for a third time. We will win this game in 60 minutes.' "

Hasek took care of that personally, stopping 17 shots in the third period.

Two of his saves were superb, robbing Valeri Bure from close range and stopping Brian Savage when the Montreal winger came in alone.

Ruff tried to downplay the impact of the win, saying that the game has to be part of a string of good efforts -- continuing Sunday night in New York against the Rangers -- before he's convinced that his team is out of his slump.

"We're happy, but we obviously can't be happy for very long," he said. "We can be proud of this for about an hour and one-half. Then we'd better focus on what's ahead."

Even so, there's little doubt that the Sabres exhaled a bit when the final buzzer sounded.

"It's a big plus," Audette said. "We had a lot of meetings, but talk is cheap. It's what you're doing on the ice that matters."

The three stars were Hasek, Audette and Montreal's Vincent Damphousse.

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