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Sabres get back on track Miller, penalty killers help beat Tampa, gain split of two-game Florida trip

TAMPA, Fla. -- Other Olympic countries might want to check with the International Ice Hockey Federation to see if they can trade for Ryan Miller.

USA Hockey snubbed the Buffalo Sabres netminder earlier this week, but on Friday night he rang up another victory against one of the goalies selected for the Turin Games.

Miller allowed an early goal but stopped every other shot he faced Friday night to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-1, in front of 21,120 fans in the St. Pete Times Forum. His mates helped him out with four unanswered goals and by killing all seven power plays the defending Stanley Cup champions had.

Miller made 30 saves and was the game's first star. He is unbeaten in three head-to-head matchups with USA's chosen goalies. He has made only two starts since learning Monday he didn't make the Olympic squad -- his first two games back from a broken right thumb.

Friday, he outdid the Lightning's John Grahame for the second time this season. Miller also beat Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders on opening night.

"I just think he wants to make a statement after not making (the Olympic team)," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "He got a chance to go up against a U.S. goalie but knowing Ryan the team comes first, wins come first."

"I'm just focusing on my game," Miller said. "They made a decision, I have to live with it and they have to go with it, but it's not a personal grudge, we're all Americans.

"My job is to be good for my team and to be happy with that. This is a fun team. We're getting the chance to win games and we're cashing in on that."

Surging rookie Thomas Vanek tied the score in the first period, and co-captain Chris Drury netted the eventual winner early in the second.

Defenseman Henrik Tallinder had a rare multi-point night with one goal and one assist, and Ales Kotalik added his team-high 16th goal by scoring into an empty net. Daniel Paille notched his first NHL point in his second game.

The Sabres were triumphant the night after their road win streak was snapped at nine games -- one shy of their own NHL record. They have taken 16 of their past 19 games dating back to Nov. 15.

The Sabres now have 49 points, their highest total heading into Christmas since 1989-90 and just two points fewer than the team record set in 1974-75.

"One of our policies this year is to get right back at it, especially after our loss," said Tallinder. "We wanted to step right back at it. You don't want to lose two games in a row."

Ruff said the team looked fresher Friday than in Thursday's loss to Florida.

"We got our legs back underneath us," he said. "We really skated well, our 'D' joined and were in on several goals. I thought that made the difference in the game."

The Lightning went without third-leading scorer Vincent Lecavalier, who was suspended one game for a high-sticking incident in Thursday night's 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.

Tampa Bay jumped to a quick lead on Vaclav Prospal's goal 2:17 into the game. Ruslan Fedotenko skated down the right wing and, just before getting rubbed out, dished to Prospal, who sent a shot from the hash over Miller's right shoulder.

Vanek tied the game at 6:15 in the dying seconds of a power play. Grahame stopped Tallinder's shot from the point, but lost the puck amid the chopping sticks. Vanek reached in from the side and tapped the puck between Grahame's legs for his ninth goal.

The Sabres penalty killers then manned their battle stations for a series of short-handed situations at the end of the first period and the start of the second.

They snuffed one Lightning power play, then five seconds later went down another man. Nine seconds after killing that one, the Sabres were penalized again, but they emerged still tied at 1.

Drury put Buffalo ahead on a sweet feed from Jochen Hecht 6:41 into the second period. Hecht was skating toward the corner when he made a long pass to the other side of the slot. Grahame couldn't slide over in time, and Drury had his 12th goal.

Two minutes after Maxim Afinogenov watched his point-blank backhander at an open net dance the length of the goal line and strike the left post without going in, Tallinder tallied with 9:56 left in the second period.

Paul Gaustad was a plow in front of the net, blasting Prospal into Grahame and giving Tallinder a large target from the slot. Tallinder previously had just one multi-point game in his career, two assists against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2002-03.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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