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This time, Connolly finds nothing but net

Tim Connolly didn't miss this time. And the way he played Friday night, it's easy to see why the Buffalo Sabres have missed him.

In his second game after returning from an oblique injury, Connolly scored his first goal in more than a month and created several other scoring opportunities with his slick passing in the Sabres' 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens in HSBC Arena.

"He's coming," said coach Lindy Ruff. "I didn't know what to expect and I thought tonight he was better, even had a little more jump. We just hope he keeps getting better and better for us."

Connolly flubbed an easy chance in the first period of Wednesday's win over Ottawa, hitting the post with Senators goaltender Ray Emery way out of position. He didn't make the same mistake Friday, potting defenseman Brian Campbell's rebound into another yawning cage for his second goal of the season and first since Oct. 11.

"I'll take it after missing that last one the last game," Connolly said. "It's great to get out there, rebound and put one in the back of the net."

"Everyone was happy to see him get a goal," said Derek Roy. "He was down on himself because he felt like he let the team down at that moment [Wednesday]. He's a great passer with great vision. To see him back in the lineup making plays and scoring a big goal for us is great."

Campbell joked that he felt like he had set Connolly up for two goals but only got credit for one of the assists.

"It's good for Timmy," Campbell said. "I think he felt a lot better tonight after getting a game under his belt. We're going to need him. He has a huge impact on our team."

Connolly, who played with Daniel Paille and Maxim Afinogenov, made several of his best passes on the Buffalo power play. Even though none resulted in goals, they produced the kind of scoring chances the Sabres had lacked in recent games.

"He slows the game down when he goes wide," Campbell said. "He settles it down, looks at his options. He's a big-time student of the game heading down the ice. He looks at everything and decides what he wants to do."
Connolly is still not 100 percent back from his injury and Ruff kept his shifts very short, an average of just 35 seconds apiece.

"I don't want to be stuck in my own end where I have to play a long shift," Connolly said. "It seems to be working. Our line had a lot of chances and easily could have had three or four more goals."

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Drew Stafford became the seventh Sabre to miss a game due to injury when he sat out Friday with a shoulder strain suffered in Wednesday's win. Following Friday's morning skate, Ruff said Stafford could play tonight in Montreal.

Defenseman Dmitri Kalinin missed his 12th straight game with a knee injury while Adam Mair has been out for seven straight with an ankle problem. Neither is close to returning although Mair is skating in noncontact situations. Kalinin has yet to resume skating.

"[Kalinin] is stuck at that point where he's close to getting ready to skate but his knee is still a little tender," Ruff said. "He may need just a couple days away from the off-ice stuff to get him over the hump. . . . We feel he's almost right where he's supposed to be at this stage of rehab."

* * *

It's been feast or famine for the Sabres when it comes to scoring the first goal. Buffalo struck first in the opening three games of the season, gave up the first goal in the next 14, and Roy's goal in the first period Friday gave the Sabres the first tally in the last three. . . . The Canadiens have alternated wins and losses the last eight games.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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