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Sabres Central

Sabres leave Phoenix in ashes
By Rick Anderson
January 20, 2002

Sabres goaltender Martin Biron was on top of his game against the Phoenix Coyotes, making 32 saves. Here he snares a puck while Coyotes right winger Landon Wilson comes in to attempt to get the puck away from Biron.
[AP Photo/Paul Connors]

Maybe Marty Biron is finally getting comfortable being the No. 1 Sabres goalie. Saturday night in Phoenix, he shut down the Coyotes, allowing only 1 goal on 33 shots as the Buffalo Sabres defeated Phoenix 3-1.

For long stretches this year, it appeared as if Biron would never settle down and claim the starting goalie job as his own. He just didn't seem to be comfortable being the heir to Dominik Hasek's royal crown. Now finally Biron has claimed it and won't give it back.

Biron was in top form against the Coyotes, getting the No. 1 star and robbing the Coyotes left and right.

"The confidence has always been there," said Biron. "It's just that everybody is putting it all together. I feed off them, too - their emotions and their awareness."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said that the Sabres need Biron to be on top of his game if they have any hope of chasing down the final playoff spot.

"The last few games he (Marty) has been rock solid," said Ruff. "We need elite goaltending. Any team that wants to win hockey games has to be led by its goaltender. Marty has led us through this stretch."

Sabres fight back

The Sabres took an early lead on a goal by Stu Barnes from an impossible angle. Being in the right corner, Barnes shot the puck along the goal line that trickled off Robert Esche's glove and into the net. It broke an 8-game scoreless slump and was the Sabres' captain's 14th goal of the season.

"I was intending to shoot it more for a rebound," said Barnes. "That was just the process of elimination. I was looking around to see if anyone was open, nobody was, so I decided to throw it at the net and see if we could get a rebound. I got a lucky bounce."

Daniel Briere got the Coyotes' on the board when he scored 1:21 in the second stanza on a power play. But Jay McKee came right back and put the Sabres in the lead less than 3 minutes when he got a pass from Maxim Afinogenov and put a shot five-hole through Esche's pads. That goal got Biron hopping with excitement.

"I was jumping up and down in my crease and doing the wave out there," mused Biron. "That's really when it counts, when you answer back like that."

After that, Biron was solid in the nets, preventing the Yotes from tying it up. With half the second period gone, the Coyotes almost tied it up when Biron stopped a shot from the point by Landon Wilson and the rebound went out to Denis Pederson right out in front of a gapping empty net. Biron was able reach out and somehow make a spectacular save to preserve the 2-1 lead.

"I dove across, and it came right back at my glove," recalled Biron. "Those are the bounces you like to see go your way."

Miroslav Satan scored an empty netter late in the contest to ice the game 3-1.

Now Biron has to keep up his consistent goaltending to help the Sabres advance up the playoff ladder. In his last five games, Biron has a .936 save percentage and a 1.40 GAA. He seemed to be shaky earlier last month in goal, but now he seems to have settled down for the final stretch.

Sabres week in review

The Sabres now have won 5 out of their last 7 games. They have won 2 out of 3 games on their current western road trip, with a game left against Colorado Monday night before coming home to play St. Louis and Tampa Bay this week.

The Sabres started this road trip fresh off a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils last Saturday. They proceeded to beat Anaheim 3-1 with Biron between the pipes. Then, on Thursday, Ruff decided to give Biron a rest and start Bob Essensa for his first game in over a month. That turned out to be another loss for Essensa, who is 0-5 so far with the Sabres. Now the big question is whether the Sabres will keep Essensa after they get home from Colorado, or if they will waive him and bring Mika Noronen back up from Rochester.

The good thing is that the Sabres are starting to play much more consistently, from goaltending on out. The crater they dug earlier in the season is becoming more shallow now and they may just reach the break even point before the All-Star break at the end of the month.

"We're starting to know we can win games against good teams," stated McKee. "When you have that feeling, you're real dangerous on the ice."

After Friday's game against Tampa Bay, the Sabres go right back on the road again to Washington and Carolina before they break for the All-Star weekend. Ruff definitely wants the Sabres to keep on their present row and at least reach the .500 level by then.

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