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HAPPY HOLIDAYS, INDEED
SABRES BEAT AVS, RETURN TO .500

Santa Claus delivered Geoff Sanderson's present about 36 hours ahead of schedule this year, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

The Buffalo Sabres' winger scored his first goal -- a game-winner, no less -- in almost two months Thursday night. It pushed the Sabres to a 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche before 18,690 in Marine Midland Arena.

After scoring four goals in his first 10 games, Sanderson had been blanked since an Oct. 29 contest against the Florida Panthers. Nineteen games without a goal is tough for anyone, but it's been particularly difficult for someone who once had 40 goals in a season in the National Hockey League.

"It's been a tough stretch. Goals have been hard to come by," he said. "All you can do is do your best and stay positive. Otherwise, you'll just bury yourself deeper."

Brian Holzinger added, "That should be a good boost for him. A lot of guys on this team have been having trouble scoring goals. I hope this gets him going and get him on the scoreboard. . . . Not only is it (the scoring slump) mystifying to him, but it's mystifying to a lot of us. He's a guy who works hard in practice and in the game. It's nice to see a guy like that get a goal."

Sanderson's goal capped Buffalo's only offensive flurry of the game, as the team scored two goals in a span of 2:20 late in the second period. Miroslav Satan one-timed a shot from close range to break a scoreless tie. Then Sanderson made a dandy tip of a shot from the point from Rhett Warrener, as he knocked the puck in a small space between Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy and the near goal post.

"That felt good," Sanderson said. "The odd-man rushes weren't there. I just sort of planted myself around the net, maybe get a rebound or a deflection like I did."

Until Buffalo "erupted" for two goals, the Sabres seemed content to play good defense and wait for an offensive opportunity. It wasn't a particularly entertaining game for the spectators, but it was as fine an example of team defense as the Sabres have had this season.

"They had about two scoring chances against us in the first two periods, by our count," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "That's two strong games in a row. We knew we'd have to play a smart game tonight. It was going to have to be a patient game at times. . . . We knew they had two strong lines we couldn't give a lot of chances to. I thought we ground the game out. It wasn't an easy game to play."

Good team defense made for a relatively easy night for goalie Martin Biron, who faced just 23 shots in the game -- 12 in the first two periods.

"You can never say that facing only a small number of shots is good. Sometimes pucks find a way to go in," Biron said. "That's where experience comes in. You have to prevent that puck from going in. You could see how Patrick (Roy) was getting out of the net and playing the puck a lot because he wanted to keep himself in the game, and it was a little bit like that for me. I was trying to get myself focused."

Colorado turned up the offense a bit in the third period, relatively speaking. Adam Deadmarsh scored with 11:37 left in the game to narrow the margin to 2-1 and make the finish more dramatic.

"You know they are going to change their gameplan and take more chances," Sanderson said. "It's not necessarily us sitting back. It's them. They tried to create havoc in our defensive zone. They really put the full-court press on us.

"This is a big confidence booster for us. That Colorado team can score five or six goals against you. We knew we had to play our best defensively, and we did that for the most part."

The win extended Buffalo's current unbeaten streak to three games (2-0-1), and moved it back to the .500 mark at 15-15-5. The team will have two days off for the Christmas holiday before practicing Sunday and playing the Devils in New Jersey on Monday.

"Now we can sit back for the next couple of days, enjoy life, enjoy our families, and then come back with a fresh mind and a fresh body," Sanderson said. "And I'll be starting on a streak. It's not one goal in 20 games for me, it's one in one."

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