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SABRES EMPOWERED AGAINST RANGERS

It was the simplest of plays. It was just a pass along the blue line and a wrist shot from the point. It was a deflection into the net. It has happened thousands of times.

Jason Woolley raised his arms over his head. Curtis Brown skated toward the corner and threw a roundhouse right into the glass. Why so much celebration by the Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night?

Because, the Sabres finally broke through on the power play in a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers before 18,200 fans in Madison Square Garden. That's why.

Brown's deflection of Woolley's shot with 7:52 remaining in the second period seemed monumental on many fronts. It broke the Sabres' 0-for-33 slump with the man advantage and a 1-for-49 drought over the last 11 games. It gave the Sabres confidence. It relieved three weeks of frustration.

"It's not a huge equation that goes into the power play," Brown said. "We had bodies in front. We were determined to get it through. It doesn't have to be a hard shot. As long as you get it through, there's going to be an opportunity."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff had been harping on his defensemen -- mainly Woolley and Alexei Zhitnik -- to get the puck to the net. Woolley had been blasting away and missing. Zhitnik the same. That explains why the Sabres were celebrating so much after a simple wrist shot caused so much damage.

"Slap shot? I'm throwing it out the door," Woolley cracked. "I didn't care if it went three miles an hour. I'm using it for the next 62 games. I might have the same stick for the whole year."

Buffalo built the lead to 3-0 with two goals in the third period. Miroslav Satan scored his 15th goal on Michal Grosek's rebound 7:08 into the third and Dixon Ward scored short-handed less than three minutes later when he deflected Jay McKee's shot past goalie Mike Richter.

For one night, anyway, it seemed like the Sabres were the Sabres again. They played good defense and won the battle on special teams. They outplayed the Rangers most of the game and finally were rewarded for their effort.

Buffalo improved to 8-0-4 over New York in their last 12 meetings and helped lessen the sting of a 2-2 tie with the New York Islanders on Sunday.

Martin Biron was spectacular in net. He made 25 saves before Mike Knuble scored on the power play to make it 3-1 with 5:35 remaining in the game. Biron made one incredible save in the third period, when he picked Petr Nedved's shot from the air and swatted it from the crease.

"Marty Biron made a save that was as good as any save Dominik (Hasek) ever made," Sabres captain Michael Peca said.

The Sabres would have had at least a 3-0 lead instead of a 1-0 advantage going into the third period had they converted their scoring chances or been rewarded with some luck. First came rookie Maxim Afinogenov's breakaway early in the second period after he stole the puck at the blue line and was stopped by Richter. A little more than a minute later, rookie Brian Campbell's shot bounced off the post after he sneaked into the slot and was discovered by Grosek.

Barely a minute later, Peca, he of the 13-game scoring slump, forced Richter to make a good save on a slap shot during a two-on-one with Geoff Sanderson. Peca wristed a shot toward the net with Sanderson cutting in front.

Buffalo was outplaying New York so badly through the first four minutes of the second period that coach John Muckler called a timeout and scolded his team from behind the bench.

It seemed only a matter of time before the Sabres would score. Brown finally broke through with his deflected goal, and the Sabres were leading after two periods. They went into the game with a 9-0-2 record when leading going into the third.

"When you're oh-for-forever, you have to punch something when one goes in on the power play," Ruff said. "I'm sure it was pent-up frustration and relief. Now, at least we start a streak where it's one-for-something. We're not oh-fer."

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