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Not pretty, but two points Afinogenov's score puts away Florida Just enough juice on power play to pull out a lackluster victory

The Buffalo Sabres' power play is in such a slump that the team is embracing any little positive. A good pass here, a nice move to get out of the zone there -- both are worthy of being put on the recent highlight films.

The Sabres' power play has been brutal for the past three weeks, and it showed little life Thursday against the Florida Panthers. It did, however, have enough of a pulse to make a winner of the Sabres.

And that's the only highlight that matters.

The Sabres eked out a 2-1 victory in HSBC Arena, their third straight win and eighth in the past 11 games. Maxim Afinogenov's power-play goal early in the third period snapped a 1-1 stalemate, and Thomas Vanek gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead shortly after another power play ended.

"We're squeezing. There's no doubt, we're squeezing," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We've got some bad power plays going. We did have a couple good ones.

"We'll just keep working at it. You're going to have some valleys, you're going to have some peaks. We're in a little bit of a valley with it."

The Sabres' power play has been in a prolonged deep freeze. The Sabres were just 3 for their last 43 going into Thursday night, and they went 1 for 7 against the Panthers' 19th-ranked unit. The Sabres generated just two shots on their first five power plays.

"We're trying to keep it as positive as possible," Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Everybody's fairly frustrated, obviously, with it. I thought we moved it around in some instances a lot better, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to take it step-by-step and take positives from it. We're not going to look at the negatives that people are looking at. We have to stay upbeat about it."

In the opening shift of the third period, the unit finally got the advantage it needed -- actually, make that the two-man advantage it needed. The Sabres had five-on-three, and it won the game for them and the sellout crowd of 18,690.

Daniel Briere dumped the puck toward the net, and Chris Drury went the extra mile to get it. He lifted the stick of Rotislav Olesz, then pushed the puck to an open Afinogenov. He had no problem lifting it over goalie Ed Belfour, 1:19 after intermission.

Of the Sabres' four power-play goals in the past nine games, three came on a two-man advantage.

The Sabres, in the effort to highlight the positives, are racking up the night's first goal as a power-play tally. They failed to get a shot on their third man advantage, but the puck was in the zone when the Panthers returned to full strength.

Afinogenov passed it to Derek Roy between the circles, and Roy one-touched it to Vanek. He had time to spin around and slip it past Belfour before penalized Nathan Horton could join the play.

"On a technical side it's not a power-play goal, but their player didn't get back in the play, and I think you have to grab hold of anything you can grab hold of," Ruff said. "I look at it through that, and we had two power-play goals tonight, which is a step in the right direction."

The Sabres set a season low with 16 shots, one fewer than against Detroit on Oct. 13. They twice went 10 minutes without a shot. The Panthers, meanwhile, took 33 on Ryan Miller, and he stopped 32.

Josef Stumpel tied the game at 1 early in the second period after Roy and Campbell were undecided who should clear the puck from the corner. Olesz grabbed it instead and Stumpel tucked it past Miller.

"They got a lot of shots on the board, but a lot of them were just throwing them at the net, trying to get the rebound," Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman said. "Just sometimes maybe we should do that, too. I think we were looking for the pretty little pass."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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