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A command performance With Clinton on hand, Biron steals show

There were about two minutes left in the first period when the Jumbotron finally acknowledged the guest of honor. The cheers grew to a crescendo when former President Bill Clinton rose from his seat in the owner's box and waved to the crowd.

By the end of the game, the 16,575 exhilarated fans had focused their adulation on the 200-by-85-foot oval office below and their commander in chief, Martin Biron.

The Buffalo Sabres goalie continued his regal play Wednesday night in a rollicking 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars amid an electric atmosphere that hadn't been duplicated in HSBC Arena since the 2001 playoffs.

Biron made 32 saves -- two goals banked off Sabres defensemen -- to win his 11th straight start, and by the end of the evening the crowd was chanting "Mar-ty! Mar-ty!" for the first time anyone could remember.

"I don't think it's ever happened, to be honest with you," Biron said sheepishly. "The fans are really good in Buffalo. Even through the criticism they push me to work harder and be better and to be the goalie that I want to be and they want to see."

"He's been a rock for us back there," Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said. "He's a big reason -- maybe the reason -- we're on such a roll."

Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere netted the eventual winner in theatrical fashion, diving into the crease early in the third period to bang home a shot that had trickled through Marty Turco's legs. Maxim Afinogenov, Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek also scored.

Buffalo was a seat of power Wednesday night. Clinton attended at the invitation of Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano, and the matchup on the ice -- a national broadcast in Canada -- featured the two most torrid teams in the league.

"It was an event tonight," Sabres defenseman Jay McKee said. "I didn't know what it was going to be like -- middle of the week against a Western Conference team -- but it was exciting."

The Stars entered 9-2-0 on the road and trying to run their winning streak to six for the first time since 1998-99, the season they beat the Sabres in the Stanley Cup finals.

It was the Sabres who maintained their extraordinary winning ways, never trailing and then holding off a Stars rally to go 12-1-1 in their past 14 games.

The atmosphere in the arena, enhanced by rousing performances throughout the game by Irish tenor Ronan Tynan and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra brass, approached euphoria. When the game was delayed in the third period to replace a broken pane, fans started the wave.

"You could feel the energy from the beginning," Biron said. "It was incredible. I don't remember the last time they did the wave in this building. That energy is transformed on the ice and making guys do things maybe they wouldn't do on a regular night."

Biron hasn't faltered in a start since the Ottawa Senators torched him Nov. 12. No NHL goalie has won 11 straight starts since Manny Legace did it over two seasons, ending in Nov. 2001.

"I thought he was fabulous," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He probably made six game-saving saves for us. You ask for two or three, usually. He probably doubled that. You gotta give him a lot of credit for standing tall for us."

The Stars were able to keep the game close because of lucky caroms that Biron had little chance of blocking. After the Sabres had built a 3-0 lead midway into the second period, the Stars struck when Jere Lehtinen banked the puck off Henrik Tallinder's skate. Less than 90 seconds later, Steve Ott scored on a feed from former Sabres captain Stu Barnes.

The Sabres increased their lead 1:42 into the third period. Briere, in his second game back after missing eight with an abdominal injury, netted his first goal since Nov. 12.

Minutes later, Biron made a pair of highlight-reel saves. He used his glove to thwart a Jason Arnott backhander and abruptly stacked his pads to stonewall Bill Guerin's follow-up.

Another ricochet goal -- Stephane Robidas threw the puck on net from along the boards, and it glanced off Campbell's stick -- pulled Dallas within a goal at 12:59.

"There's a lot of confidence in that room," Ruff said. "They believe in each other. They like each other. They play for each other. On any given night we can beat anybody."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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