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SHHH! SABRES LOSE QUIETLY TO DEVILS

The Buffalo Sabres took just three penalties Saturday night, while allowing a paltry 11 shots on goal.

And that was enough for the New Jersey Devils.

The two-time defending Eastern Conference champs beat Buffalo, 3-1, on the strength of a pair of power-play goals and a brick-wall outing by goalie Martin Brodeur. The loss was spectacularly frustrating for the Sabres, who played their best defensive game of the season despite the absence of injured defensemen Rhett Warrener, Richard Smehlik and Dmitri Kalinin, and suspended checking forward Vaclav Varada.

"I think we played a real good, solid road game, really. With a depleted defensive corps I thought we did everything we needed to do to win this game," Buffalo goalie Bob Essensa said. "We did everything but do what was necessary to win the game."

What was necessary was scoring, which the Sabres again lacked. Buffalo got one extremely pretty breakaway goal from winger J.P. Dumont, but otherwise the Sabres just couldn't beat the Devils' All-Star netminder, despite some top-notch opportunities for Miroslav Satan, Maxim Afinogenov and Slava Kozlov.

Still, the Sabres had a chance to win right up until Devils forward Bobby Holik scored into the empty net with just under a minute remaining. Buffalo held New Jersey to three shots in the first period, two in the second and six in the third. It was lowest shot total by the Devils since they were known as the Kansas City Scouts.

During its one unsuccessful power play, New Jersey did not get off a single shot, and for two minutes the Sabres' short-handed unit looked like the stifling crew that led the league in penalty killing last season.

The Devils struck quickly on their other two power-play opportunities. Jason Arnott scored just five seconds into the Devils' first power play, and Petr Sykora netted the only shot New Jersey needed on its final man-advantage, which came on a hooking call against Curtis Brown with five minutes left.

The Sabres have allowed four goals on their last five short-handed situations, including 2 of 2 against the Montreal Canadiens in Friday night's 5-2 loss in HSBC Arena.

"Really, the last two games it's cost us," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We let three straight power play goals go in against us, and then (Saturday's) game-winner, obviously. That hurts. When two of our defensemen that kill on the penalty kill are out and our best penalty-killing forward (Curtis Brown) is sitting in the box, it definitely hurts."

New Jersey again relied on its potent A-line to do the scoring. Arnott had a goal and an assist, winger Patrik Elias recorded two assists and Sykora scored the game-winner as New Jersey continued to challenge the theory that a team can't win with just one scoring line. The trio has 15 of the team's 23 goals.

With Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell in the penalty box for cross-checking Devils forward Randy McKay, the Devils won a faceoff in Buffalo's zone. Essensa stopped a quick shot by New Jersey defenseman Brian Rafalski, but Elias slid the rebound back to Arnott, who buried a one-timer with 12:32 gone in the first. Arnott's shot was the last on Essensa in the first period.

Sykora scored with four minutes left in the game.

Between those tallies came Dumont's goal, which tied the score at 1-1 less than two minutes into the second period. Dumont picked off a pass by Devils defenseman Ken Daneyko and skated in alone on Brodeur. After a quick look over his shoulder to make sure no one was behind him, the winger flicked a high shot past Brodeur.
e-mail: mgeschwind@buffnews.com

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