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SABRES RIGHT ON TARGET IN BEATING CANADIENS

Remember how Sheriff Andy Taylor would issue Barney Fife just one bullet -- to be kept in his shirt pocket, no less -- so the hapless deputy wouldn't cause any more havoc than normal?

If Fife had been wearing a Buffalo Sabres uniform Saturday night in Montreal, he would have made like Dirty Harry.

The Sabres knocked out Canadiens starting goaltender Jeff Hackett on their first shot. Then on the first puck Jose Theodore faced, the Sabres scored the first goal in a 3-1 victory before 19,067 in the Molson Centre.

When the Habs tied the game late in the third, the Sabres scored on the first shot after that, this time by Chris Gratton.

The Sabres also scored on their last shot. Erik Ramussen added an empty-net goal with 19.4 seconds left.

Sabres goaltender Martin Biron was fantastic. Playing in his native Quebec one night after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in HSBC Arena, he made 29 saves to raise his record to 4-3-1. The only goal he surrendered was to Richard Zednik on a point-blank rebound.

"You can't say we didn't play well," Brian Savage of the Canadiens said. "I thought we dominated them, actually. If it weren't for their goaltender, we would have blown them out."

Former Sabres forward Doug Gilmour was a nonfactor. Playing his home debut for the Habs, he received the loudest ovation during pregame introductions but was roundly booed twice for misplaying the puck.

Gilmour, coming off his worst season, had turned the game into a personal grudge match, having repeatedly accused Sabres management of mistreating him.

Buffalo General Manager Darcy Regier denied comments Gilmour made to a Toronto all-sports radio station that accused the GM of sabotaging Gilmour's chance to sign with the Ottawa Senators in the offseason.

"It wasn't our decision to make," Regier said. "And in no way would we ever attempt to negatively influence any player's opportunity to play in the National Hockey League. We have nothing to be ashamed of, organizationally, in regard to Doug Gilmour."

Gilmour was in the starting lineup and on the ice when Hackett left screaming in pain.

Hackett departed with a dislocated left shoulder suffered while trying to cover the initial shot 12 seconds into the game.

Theodore was beaten by Slava Kozlov 90 seconds later.

Theodore didn't have time to settle into the crease when the Sabres popped him on their second shot. Kozlov scored his fifth goal of the season and fourth in four games by redirecting an Alexei Zhitnik blast from the point 1:42 into the game. Theodore lifted his right knee off the ice just in time to let the puck slip inside his right skate.

"I was kind of lucky," Kozlov said. "Alex got a pretty good shot, and it was a tough play for a goaltender to stop. There was nothing he could do."

Gratton's goal was another deflection, on a shot from Maxim Afinogenov at 16:55 of the third period, just 22 seconds after Zednik tied the game.

"That goal got their building back in it," Gratton said. "It got really loud. We just wanted to get a solid shift and not make any mistakes."

"They could have built a little momentum, but we answered the bell and that quieted the crowd right down," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said.

Otherwise, Theodore was stellar. He made several clutch saves over the course of the game even though he wasn't overly busy.

Buffalo had recorded at least 30 shots in its last four games but had only 11 through the first 40 minutes and 23 for the night. The Sabres' accuracy when it counted turned out to be the difference.

Gilmour was left pointing at an area of improvement.

"I felt we were in there all night, but we wound up having to kill a lot of penalties," he said. "That's something we'll have to reflect on tomorrow. We'll have to play with a lot more discipline."
The Sabres made line changes. Curtis Brown centered Denis Hamel and Stu Barnes, Gratton centered Kozlov and Afinogenov, while Rasmussen centered Vaclav Varada and Rob Ray. The only line that remained unchanged was Tim Connolly between J.P. Dumont and Miroslav Satan.
Ruff scratched Jason Woolley one day after the defenseman recorded his first minus game of the season, against Columbus. Woolley netted a power-play goal in the season opener but hasn't recorded a point since.

James Patrick played in Woolley's place, including power plays.

Buffalo left wing Eric Boulton also sat, while Montreal scratched wingers Oleg Petrov and Gino Odjik and defenseman Patrick Traverse.
e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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