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A temporary reprieve Sabres bounce back with shootout win Chilling pregame moment of silence is followed by an inspired effort

The Buffalo Sabres wanted to provide a break from the harsh realities of life, give a grieving and shocked community a few hours to gather together in a place of fun rather than a place of mourning.

Anyone who watched or attended the game Friday would agree they succeeded.

The Sabres and San Jose Sharks provided a dazzling hockey experience for a town that needed it. HSBC Arena was turned from safe haven into party central. And the ending provided the type of revelry of which Larry Quinn and the Sabres could only dream.

The Sabres, who blew a pair of three-goal leads to the best team in the NHL's Western Conference, found themselves in a 5-4 hole with the clock ticking toward zero. Then they recaptured the magic that endeared them to the community three years ago. They scored with 3.9 seconds left in regulation, and the much-needed happy ending was written in the shootout.

The Sabres earned a 6-5 victory, giving the 18,690 in attendance and the fans watching elsewhere a reason to smile for a little while.

"How ever so small this event was, it turned out to be a positive event," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was a happy ending. It was what we needed. . . . We needed it. I think our fans needed it."

The NHL gave the Sabres the option of canceling the game. The league figured Western New York was severely affected by the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407. Minority owner Quinn and General Manager Darcy Regier talked it over and decided people needed revelry and camaraderie.

"I think that people want to be with other people in times like this," Quinn said during the first intermission. "I think the arena and the games here are really our town hall.

It's the only place in town where people from different strata of society get together. . . .

"People that aren't here are probably gathered in their family rooms watching the game gathered with family so I think it does have a nice community purpose to it."

The Sabres, many of whom live near the crash site, did their best to make the observers smile. At the end, it was more than smiles.

"We're happy that we can be a bit of a distraction, but hockey is just a small part of life," goalie Ryan Miller said. "We just hope we add to the people's feeling of community and feeling of pride for being from Buffalo."

Buffalo needed less than 15 minutes to take a 3-0 lead. San Jose trimmed the deficit to 3-1 late in the first period, but the Sabres restored their three-goal advantage midway through the second.

The built it with their reeling power play. One game after a dismal 1-for-12 showing, the Sabres struck on their first three chances. Obviously, spending all practice Thursday working on the power play paid off.

But there are plenty of reasons San Jose is considered the top team in the league. The Sharks showed them off as they climbed to within 4-3 after two periods and took the lead midway through the third.

The Sabres, though, were playing for more than two points.

"Nobody was not going to let us come back and tie this game for these people," said center Derek Roy.

Captain Craig Rivet, who already had two assists against his former team, fired a slap shot from the blue line as time ticked off. Jason Pominville, who hadn't found the net in 17 games, tipped the shot past goalie Evgeni Nabokov with 3.9 seconds left. Roars, hugs and high-fives came from every portion of the arena.

When Roy scored to give the Sabres the lead in the shootout and Miller made a glove stop on Milan Michalek, the fairy tale was complete.

"It's been a real tough day for all of Buffalo," Rivet said. "If it can somewhat ease the pain that's going to happen, I hope it helped."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com