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SHIELDS SOLID IN RARE START; FIVE-GOAL OUTBURST WELCOME

Steve Shields still hasn't lost a start in the calendar year 1998.

The Buffalo Sabres' back-up goalie turned in a solid performance Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks. It was his first game since a Feb. 26 tie in Boston. He allowed a goal to Pavel Bure only 21 seconds into the contest, but missed only one other shot the rest of the way as he gave Buffalo a chance to make its comeback.

"I thought I played well," Shields said. "I got scored on early. That's not the way to start when you haven't played a while. I thought it might turn out to be a long night, but I managed to make some saves and keep us in the game until we got some goals."

Coach Lindy Ruff added, "He made three or four great saves. You've got to expect him to be a little rusty, and we made a bad play to leave Bure uncovered in the first few seconds. But I thought his save on (Bret) Hedican in the second period helped turn the game around."

Buffalo's offensive outburst in the third period -- the five goals in a period were a season high -- was welcome for a team that has had trouble scoring goals of late.

"It doesn't happen often, and it sure feels good," said Michael Peca, who celebrated his 24th birthday with a two-goal performance. "Over the course of the season we've had some chances early but we were not capitalizing on them. We got hot. We knew we had to be strong around the net and we did that in the third (period)."

Matthew Barnaby chipped in with three assists in the period, while Dixon Ward and Derek Plante had two each.

Ex-Sabre forward Brad May can't complain about his linemates or about anything else since coming to the Vancouver Canucks in a February trade.

"I've been playing with Mark Messier and Pavel Bure the whole time," said May, who was sent here by the Sabres in a deal for Geoff Sanderson. "The team has played well, and I've been scoring some goals. I've gotten a chance to play. I've been on (the ice) for something like 25 goals scored. Mark and Pavel have been scoring. It's been a great time."

May says he's having a lot of fun as a member of the Canucks. He has five goals in 18 games, including one in Thursday's game. May says he even likes playing for coach Mike Keenan, someone who never has been accused of winning popularity contests among players.

"He's been great," May said about Keenan. "He's demanding, but that's the easy part -- going out and working hard. Everything he does is for the purpose of winning the Stanley Cup. He's a great director."

Keenan has made 10 other trades besides the one that brought May here in the past 2 1/2 months. That means May has lots of company when it comes to feeling like a stranger in a different locker room.

"It's not hard to figure what type of team Mike wants and what kind of team he's trying to assemble," May said. "Everyone is responding to him. All of the new guys have come in and done well. That's exciting. It's a real nice feeling to be part of a solution."

It's Lindy Ruff's turn to have his father along for a Sabre road trip. All members of the team's traveling party are allowed to bring their dad along once during the regular season. Ruff's father joined the team in Calgary.

"I've been getting a lot of free advice, that's for sure. He's got some ideas about how the games should go," Ruff said. "It's been great. I don't get to see a lot of him. It's a really good experience."

Dixon Ward's father also is on this road trip.

Buffalo's scratches were Mike Wilson, Rumun Ndur, Curtis Brown and Vaclav Varada. . . . Thursday's three stars were Peca, Shields and Messier. . . . Buffalo finished with a 24-23 edge in shots. . . . The Sabres were 1 for 8 on the power play while Vancouver was 0 for 6.

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