Share this article

print logo

Keeping their distance Miller becomes 20-game winner Vanek nets two, Briere ends goal-scoring slump against East's No. 2 team

The Atlanta Thrashers, charging from behind, hoped to gain a step on the long-running pace-setters of the Eastern Conference.

They ran straight into a face wash that would make John Heisman proud.

The Buffalo Sabres fended off their closest competition in the standings with a 4-1 victory Saturday night in front of another capacity HSBC Arena crowd.

Thomas Vanek netted two goals in the final 3:07 and had an assist, and Daniel Briere snapped his longest slump as a Sabre to disrupt Atlanta's season-long, five-game win streak.

Jason Pominville also scored for Buffalo, while goalie Ryan Miller repelled a potent Atlanta offense that came into the game averaging four goals during its streak.

The Sabres won their third straight and extended their point streak to five games. They padded their lead over the Southeast Division leaders to seven points with two games in hand.

"They were rolling and they had lots of confidence coming in," Briere said of the Thrashers. "They were the team that broke our [10-game streak to open the season], too. It was a game we wanted to show we can win and we can play better than we did the first meeting."

Buffalo's victory also locked up All-Star honors for Lindy Ruff, who will coach the Eastern Conference in the Jan. 24 exhibition in Dallas.

Miller turned in another stout performance to notch his 20th win. Miller made 29 saves in his duel with surging Thrashers netminder Kari Lehtonen, who had a .936 save percentage during his team's five-game streak.

Glen Metropolit was the only Thrasher to beat Miller, scoring 2:41 into the third period to make the score 2-1.

Miller has given up one goal in back-to-back games, the first time he has allowed two or fewer in consecutive games since October. Miller on Thursday night fell 69 seconds short of a shutout versus the Carolina Hurricanes, who had won four straight.

"If you want to use these last two games as a springboard, he's been rock-solid," Ruff said. "He hasn't made any mistakes. Hopefully, it's the start of a groove."

The Sabres' penalty killers pitched in by thwarting all four power plays they faced against the dangerous Thrashers, including two in the opening 5:10 of the game.

The Sabres haven't allowed a power-play goal in 15 chances against, a streak that dates to Dec. 21 and coincides with the return of defenseman Henrik Tallinder.

"We worked hard at it," Miller said. "We obviously discouraged what they wanted to do with the puck."

Buffalo scored first on a brilliant passing display by three of the league's more exciting puck handlers 6:44 into the night.

Maxim Afinogenov skated down the wing and made a cross-ice pass toward the left circle and Vanek, who touched it through the slot to Briere, charging toward the crease. Briere sent the puck under the cross bar for his first goal in 10 games. The goal did, however, extend Briere's point streak to five games.

"It's something that earlier on in my career I would have been going crazy, not being able to finish," Briere said. "But when the team keeps winning it's a lot easier to go through and get over it."

Briere triggered the next goal with 3:15 remaining in the second period, chipping the puck off the boards and out of the defensive zone to create a three-on-one break Pominville finished for his fifth goal and seventh point in five games.

After Slater scored to bring Atlanta within striking range for much of the third period, Vanek provided distance with late goals, including one into an empty net with 1:47 to play.

"We can't fault the effort," Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. "We played a good game. We showed up to work. They got the better chances at the right time and took advantage."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

There are no comments - be the first to comment