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Gragnani's defense leads to winning goal

Marc-Andre Gragnani got his first NHL point on the game's only goal Wednesday night. But it didn't come on the slick passing that has made him the American Hockey League's best offensive defenseman this season.
It came on a neat defensive play to break up a 2-on-1 break that was just about a 3-on-1 as Drew Stafford desperately tried to get back into the play. It could have been the 13th shorthanded goal against the Buffalo Sabres this season. Instead, it turned into Tim Connolly's power play goal and a 1-0 win over the New York Rangers.

"I was just trying to take the pass away and leave the shot (for Dan Boyle)," Gragnani said. "When it was time to slide, I slid, it went off me and we scored. A good break."

Gragnani quickly went down to his knees to block Boyle's pass to Ryan Callahan and the puck deflected off him to Thomas Vanek. He fed Connolly for the slapshot that sizzled past Henrik Lundqvist.

"A good feeling for sure," Gragnani said. "I don't think I realized right away I got an assist on the goal because I didn't pass it. It went off me. Obviously it felt good and gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the game."

"I thought Marc played well for us," said coach Lindy Ruff. "That play alone was maybe a game-changer but I thought his puck movement out of the 'D' zone was something really missing [in Tuesday night's loss in Toronto]. We didn't make enough plays and exit the zone very well. He made a lot of really good plays. For the situation he was in, he really responded well."

Gragnani was called up from Portland Monday and was a healthy scratch for the 4-3 loss at Toronto. He had 48 assists and 60 points, both franchise records for a Pirates defenseman, and figures to stay in Buffalo due to the hand injury suffered by Jordan Leopold.

"I really feel we need somebody on the back end that can quarterback our power play in Leopold's absence," Ruff said. " He's had a great year down there quarterbacking their power play. I just feel that he could give that unit a boost. He's a great passer. he might be as good a passer that we'll have from the back end."

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The Sabres were again without Mike Grier (knee) and Jochen Hecht (upper body) landed back on the shelf after briefly returning Tuesday.

Ruff couldn't speculate on Hecht's continued troubles. Hecht missed four games, played two, missed five more, played Saturday against New Jersey and lasted less than six minutes in Toronto.

"We're concerned obviously," Ruff said. "He's tried but hasn't been able to [keep playing]."

Matt Ellis was called up from Portland for the second time this year and was inserted into the lineup with Gragnani.

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The 21st straight start by Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist equaled his career high set in 2006-07. Lundqvist's NHL-high 11 shutouts are the most by a Ranger since John Ross Roach set the team record with 13 in 1928-29.

The Rangers have scored just three goals in their last four games but Lundqvist has been able to help them sneak a 2-1-1 record out of them with a shutout streak of 115 minutes, 7 seconds that ended on Connolly's goal.

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Portland center Luke Adam was named to the AHL All-Rookie team Wednesday, and is in line to become the third straight Sabres prospect to be named the league's rookie of the year joining current Sabres Nathan Gerbe (2009) and Tyler Ennis (2010).

Adam ranks second among AHL rookies in goals (25), points (54) and plus-minus (plus-22) in just 49 games spiced between five recalls to Buffalo.

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The Sabres set a franchise record with their fifth 1-0 game of the season. They are 2-3 in them, and the three losses had all been at home. Buffalo played four 1-0 games in 1997-98 and won them all behind Dominik Hasek.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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