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Sabres vs. Mighty Ducks: Another night, another comeback victory for confident bunch Sabres' mind-set remains mighty

Ales Kotalik knew it was coming.

The Buffalo Sabres had been stymied much of the game, unable to muster much offense against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The Sabres had trailed almost the whole way, briefly tying the score on a third-period Thomas Vanek penalty shot.

Yet even after the Ducks took a 2-1 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining, Kotalik knew. And he wasn't the only one.

Kotalik stroked a one-timer with 3:27 left in the third period, and Maxim Afinogenov netted the power-play winner 2:11 into overtime to give the Sabres a 3-2 victory in HSBC Arena.

"I have confidence in my shot, and that's what every player is looking for," said Kotalik, who has a team-high 14 goals. "I had some chances in the second period. I hit the post there. But I was saying to myself, 'It's going to come for you.' I told myself, 'You're going to tie the game for this team.' "

The Sabres are playing with supreme team confidence. They are 10-1 with a shootout loss over the past four weeks, the hottest team in the NHL.

They have thrived in crunch time. Six of their past eight wins have been by one goal. An exception -- Sunday's 6-4 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche -- was because of an empty-netter.

"Our confidence level is at a level where they just believe they can make the difference late," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

Martin Biron made 28 saves to win his ninth straight start. He has allowed more than two goals only once in his past six games.

The power play that set up Afinogenov's decisive goal -- a blistering shot from the right dot to beat Jean-Sebastien Giguere -- came when Williamsville native Todd Marchant was whistled for hooking Brian Campbell.

"I got tangled up at the tops of the circles," Marchant said. "I was chasing all the way up the ice, but the way I saw it was I had stick on stick. I didn't think I hugged him in the body at all.

"It's overtime, you would think they would let a little bit more go. Evidently not tonight."

The game never would have reached sudden death if not for Kotalik's goal. He blasted a one-timer from the left dot on a cross-ice pass from Campbell, who has eight points over as many games.

"If he can find a hole he can score from anywhere," Ruff said of Kotalik. "He's been in on big goals for us. He's a guy you want in that position."

HSBC Arena felt like a morgue for much of the game. The crowd of 12,504 had little to cheer about, especially after the Ducks opened the scoring 7:06 into the game on a Chris Kunitz pass that caromed off Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder.

The Ducks held that lead until 8:06 into the third, when Vanek was hooked by Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei on a breakaway, giving the rookie sniper his first NHL penalty shot attempt.

Vanek made good on the opportunity. He faked a slapper at the tops of the circles then cruised in on Giguere, showing forehand and then flipping a backhand shot over the butterflied goalie's right pad.

Anaheim retook the lead 2:18 later. Biron stopped Joffrey Lupul's shot from the bottom of the left circle, but Lupul followed up his own rebound by banking the puck off the inside of Biron's leg.

The Sabres didn't panic.

"We didn't play our best game, but we found a way to win," said rookie center Paul Gaustad. "They didn't give us many chances, but we stayed pretty patient with it."

The Sabres are outscoring the opposition, 41-30, in the third period and overtime this season.

"This team is pretty strong," Kotalik said. "As much points as we're getting we're gaining confidence."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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