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FEEDING FRENZY <br> TEAM EFFORT BY SABRES REPELS SHARKS

It's not exactly a hot streak, but the Buffalo Sabres will take it.

The Sabres, searching for a semblance of consistency 10 games into the 2001-02 campaign, finally put together their first two-game winning streak of the season Tuesday.

Goaltender Martin Biron played well enough to nearly earn his first shutout of the season, and seven Sabres recorded points in a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in front of 17,653 fans in HSBC Arena.

"It was a great, collective effort," Biron said. "We deserved to win."

Buffalo received goals from Vaclav Varada, Tim Connolly, Maxim Afinogenov and Rhett Warrener, while Jay McKee, J.P. Dumont and Chris Gratton added assists.

"You can feel it when you see line after line, defense pairing after defense pairing and Marty making huge saves," Sabres captain Stu Barnes said. "You can feel it as they're rolling the lines, and the guys are going out and giving it their all and playing so hard. You get a sense of how everybody's working together and working for each other.

"It's what makes us dangerous. In the past, any time we've been successful is when we have the scoring spread out and everybody making plays. That's what makes us so strong is our depth."

Tuesday's triumph put the Sabres in first place in the Northeast Division with 12 points. Their next game is Friday at home against the Montreal Canadiens.

"We wanted to get off to a good start, and we're off to a good start," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We gave some points away. With a little more timely scoring we easily could have beaten Columbus (Friday), and we should have beat Atlanta (Oct. 4). But we didn't. We've still got ourselves in decent shape, though."

Biron made 19 saves and kept the Sharks scoreless until there were 3 minutes, 5 seconds left in the game, when Patrick Marleau cranked a shot from outside the right circle that was deflected over Biron's right shoulder by Marco Sturm in the slot.

It was the second time Biron played well but lost a shutout late. He also came close Oct. 14 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but a fluke third-period goal broke it up.

"It would have been nice to be able to get the zero," said Biron, now 5-3-1. "But we'll take the win. It was one of our better games."

Helping Biron was a 22-minute, 6-second San Jose shooting drought that lasted until there was 8:05 left in the game.

"One of the toughest things for a goaltender is to go that long, and then (the Sharks) had a couple shifts where they started pinching hard," Ruff said.

"Early on we got a couple real big saves out of Marty, and in the second period we started to take the game over. After the first period, we only gave up six chances the entire night."

Some of the Sharks' ineffectiveness could be chalked up to road weariness. It was their fifth game in eight nights, and they still have to play Thursday in Chicago before they can go home. The Sharks dropped to 3-2-3-1.

"I knew going in that we needed to have a really good first period, and we had the scoring chances," Sharks coach Darryl Sutter said. "The thing is that if you score your goals early, then you stick to your system and get your goaltending, those are the games you kind of steal."

Both goalies showed a willingness to duel it out by making multiple five-star saves in the first period, but Varada's long-distance dedication 4:19 into the second period gave the Sabres the early lead.

McKee made a neutral-zone pass to Varada, who took a stride over the blue line and fired a slap shot from above the left circle. The puck whizzed past Mikka Kiprusoff's right ear and into the net.

"He was an absolute bull (tonight) to a point where they got tired chasing him down low," Ruff said. "But that's Vaclav's game. When he's on his game, he's one guy defenses have a real tough time with."

Connolly's unassisted goal, snapping a personal seven-game slump, came off a San Jose giveaway. He picked up the puck along the boards and took a wrist shot from the right circle, finding barely enough space between Kiprusoff's glove and left leg pad to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead at 13:21 of the second period.

"They scored two soft goals on us," Sutter said. "It's tough. That's really surprising for Kipper. . . . We really couldn't generate anything after that."

Gratton won a third-period faceoff and slipped the puck ahead to Afinogenov, streaking down the right wing. Afinogenov's blast from the right circle beat Kiprusoff with 13:16 remaining.

Warrener scored into an empty net with 21.9 seconds left to play.

Buffalo killed off all four San Jose power plays and has not allowed a man-advantage goal in three games, squashing 13 opportunities in that span.

The Sabres, however, are also scoreless on the power play in three games (0 for 14).

"The power play's been a little on the flat side for three or four games now," Ruff said.

Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik sat out Tuesday night's game after missing the morning skate with a groin pull. Winger Eric Boulton was a healthy scratch for the ninth time in 10 games. . . . The Sharks scratched wingers Alexander Korolyuk and Matt Bradley and defenseman Shawn Heins. Last season's Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the year, goalie Evgeni Nabokov, also had the night off.
e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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