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Sabres Central

Young guns shock Lightning
By Rick Anderson
January 26, 2002

The Sabres Maxim Afinogenov is stopped on a breakaway by Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin stopped Mad Max twice in the game on breakaways, but Afinogenov was able to get one past the Lightning goalie.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

It was Future Sabres night in Buffalo. The Young Guns of Buffalo came out in full force and displayed their wares. Taylor Pyatt, Tim Connolly, Maxim Afinogenov and Norm Milley all played key roles in the Sabres 4-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff assembled the Young Guns line of Afinogenov, Connolly and Pyatt and reaped huge benefits from one of the youngest lines in the NHL.

Pyatt had his biggest night ever in the NHL. He scored two goals and has been making his presence felt by continuously rattling opposing players' bones with ferocious checks. The 6-foot-4 and 222 pound forward is just what the Sabres need at this time.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been grooming Pyatt to help pick up the aggressive play and try to drive some fear into opponents, much the same way as former Sabres captain Michael Peca used to with his train-wreck checks. It is no coincidence that Pyatt is one of the two players the Sabres acquired for Peca when they traded him to the New York Islanders last summer.

The other player, Tim Connolly, is another pet project Ruff has taken over. Connolly was also instrumental against the Lightning, setting up two of Buffalo's 4 goals. He also put his face in the line of fire of a clearing shot by Pavel Kubina and it proved costly as he got hit by a clearing shot and at first it appeared as if he may have lost some teeth. Connolly had to have around 18 stitches to close the gash on his upper lip, but returned to play the rest of the game.

Two of the highly touted "Young Guns" celebrate Taylor Pyatt's first of two goals of the night against Tampa Bay. Tim Connolly, who along with Pyatt, came over to the Sabres in a trade for Michael Peca, rejoice over Pyatt's goal.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"I was very concerned,"admitted Ruff when he saw Connolly go down. "Any time you see a guy take a slap shot to the face .All I saw was blood. I was worried maybe broken jaw, broken whatever. But after seeing he was OK - if OK is a mouth full of stitches and some teeth broken - it was good to see. We didn't need another guy going down."

Pyatt was the star of the night. He got in front of a shot by Alexei Zhitnik from the point and tipped it past Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin 11:58 into the first period.

A minute 3 seconds later, Curtis Brown ripped a slap shot that clanked off the post in back of the net to make it 2-0 Sabres. At that point, the fans may have been having deja vu all over again. Two nights earlier, the Sabres took a 2-0 lead on the St. Louis Blues and then surrendered 5 straight goals and lost 5-2.

Speaking about St. Louis, the Lightning were missing one of their top guns, Martin St. Louis, who suffered a broken leg on Wednesday. The Lightning, who are the lowest scoring team in the league, could have surely used St. Louis in this game.

Another Sabres Young Gun, Afinogenov, could have had a hat trick against Khabibulin, as the Lightning goalie stopped Maxim twice on breakaways. However, Mad Max was able to get one past Khabibulin 9:02 into the second stanza when he used the other Sabres young studs to his advantage. Pyatt formed the screen in front of Khabibulin and Connolly feathered a nice pass to Afinogenov the Sabres Russian Rocket lobbed the puck over the goalie's right shoulder, notching his 16th goal of the season.

Then Pyatt got his second goal of the night when he once again parked in front of Khabibulin and slithered a shot under the goalie after taking a pass from J.P. Dumont with 6:44 left in the period.

"It was pretty much a couple of garbage goals," admitted Pyatt. "I was just sort of hanging around the net. I got a nice shot from Alex, and a great pass from J.P. I was able to bury them. I'm just trying to get in front of the net and use my body, use my strength."

Biron misses getting shutout

Another one of the young stars the Sabres are building their future on is goaltender Martin Biron. Biron has been having a very inconsistent year, but against the Lightning, he was strong, making 21 saves. However, Biron wishes he could have one shot back, the one by Fredrik Modin. Moldin sent the puck between Biron's pads to foil his shutout bid.

"I think Marty might want to have that one back," said Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. "Any one that squeezes through your five-hole like that you'd want it back. But you can't take anything away from him because he came up with a huge save on a play that was kind of botched."

Biron did come up big when he had to and kept the Lightning off the boards from that point on. He made a big stop when former Sabre Dave Andreychuk tried to set up a goal in the first period. With a minute and a half remaining in that period, Andreychuk fed Vincent Lecavalier, storming into the Sabres zone and Biron stonewalled him.

Pyatt, meanwhile had a couple of great opportunities to record his first NHL hat trick late in the game. Chris Gratton fed him up close, but the rookie was tied up and couldn't shoot. With just ten ticks left on the clock, Khabibulin came up big to prevent Taylor's first hat trick.

"It would have been nice to see him get one there late," put in Ruff. "He had a chance to cap it off. But he's worked very hard. He's gone to the right places. He's gone to the front of the net. He's paid the price by taking a lot of hits down low and a lot of hits along the walls."

Milley played his first NHL game and didn't look out of place in the big league.

The Sabres with the win, remain 4 points out of the final playoff spot in the East. But there are 4 teams ahead of them vying for that last playoff berth: The Devils with 51, tied with the Canadiens with 51, the Penguins with 49 and the Caps, who they play on Sunday, with 48. It will be a difficult task for the Sabres to get past all four and outside help may be needed for them to accomplish their desired goal.

Read ESPN's Recap for more game details.

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