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Sabres Central

Sabres hold on to beat Canucks
By Rick Anderson
January 9, 2002

Sabres' Miroslav Satan squeezes in to get a shot off on Canucks goalie Peter Skudra during the second stanza as Canucks' Daniel Sedin tries to squeeze Satan out. The Sabres won 3-2.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Buffalo Sabres now have a two game winning streak going! That may be spare change to most NHL teams, but for the Sabres it's a gold mine. By beating the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 Tuesday night, the Sabres for the first time in over a month won consecutive games.

Vaclav Varada was the unlikely hero of this game, scoring two straight goals in setting the stage for the Buffalo victory. Varada suddenly has scored 3 goals in his last two games. On Sunday, Varada scored the game winner against Minnesota. Tuesday, he only scored Buffalo's first two goals - or ones that counted anyway.

"It's just two games," admitted Varada. "I could be struggling the next 10 games again. I don't want to say ‘Here I come. I'm going to score 20.' I just want to chip in."

The Sabres appeared to score early when referee Tim Peel blew a very quick whistle when the puck was still in play. Miroslav Satan thought he had broken out of his 12-game scoreless streak, but Peel whistled it dead before Satan knocked in J.P. Dumont's shot less than a minute into the game.

Varada took care of things by being in the right place at the right time. Chris Gratton, who is in an even bigger slump than Satan, made an excellent pass over to Varada, who deflected it past former Sabres goalie Peter Skudra with half a minute left in the first period.

In the second stanza, Varada was being decked by Ed Jovanovski, but was still able to get a shot off on Skudra, that eluded the Canucks backup goalie at the 3:43 mark.

Brendan Morrison got the Canucks on the board at 11:18 of the second period. Tim Connolly got the Sabres up 2 goals again when he scored when his shot from the left faceoff circle hit Canucks defenseman Brent Sopel's stick and got past Skudra at the 13:27 mark. That turned out to be the game winner.

Being up 3-1 in the third period, the Sabres decided to play their typical shell game and try to protect the lead. Vancouver outplayed and outshot the Sabres in the final period, but could only manage 1 goal. Getting outshot 14-4, Buffalo had to withstand the Pacific coast storm. Sopel took a shot from the point on a powerplay that Todd Bertuzzi redirected past Sabres goalie Martin Biron. But after that goal, Biron kept the Canucks off the scoreboard the rest of the way.

"I don't think there was a happy guy in this room the way we sat on the lead in the third period," said Varada. "It almost cost us. It's a nice jump-start, but if we lose the next couple of games, we'll be right back in the hole."

Biron, who hadn't won a game for over a month, now has posted two straight wins and looked pretty solid, making 26 saves.

"I thought Marty was solid for us," lauded Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "In the third period, after they scored the second goal, they had a lot of down-low stuff where they were bowling people over in front of the net, and I thought he was strong around the crease. He made several key saves there."

The Sabres are starting to feel more comfortable with Biron after these two games.

"Players feed off the goalie and the goalie feeds off the players when it comes to confidence," said Jay McKee. "I think the last few games Marty's been playing a lot better. I'm sure he's gaining confidence with every win and the team's gaining more confidence and we're starting to head in the right direction."

Two at home and then westward bound

The Sabres are in the middle of a very important home stand. They have beaten the Canucks in the first of three at home and play the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday and the New Jersey Devils Saturday. Then they go on a four game western swing that takes them through Anaheim, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Colorado. Buffalo has never done well on those west coast trips in their entire history. If they can break even on that trip, it will be a success.

Stu Barnes knows that the Sabres dug themselves an early grave when they lost games to weaker teams at the beginning of the season. Now that the going is getting tougher, they are paying highly for their mediocre start.

"I think we got off to a slow start," admitted Barnes. "Obviously desperation is a word we're using now but it's a word we could have used back then, too. We weren't quite as desperate as we needed to be earlier in the season."

Now the Sabres have to play catch up with the teams ahead of them in the standings if they want any chance to make the playoffs.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us and I think everybody here realizes it," continued Barnes. "I know everybody here realizes that we want to get in the playoffs and we want to be playing our best hockey when we get there. We just have to play our best every night and see where it takes us."

Sabres Talk

Ruff was in high praise of Varada after the game.

"If there's one guy that deserved to have a few goals go in for him it was Vaclav," Ruff said. "If you look at all the great opportunities he's had - from breakaways to chances he's been in alone - I think the return is finally coming for how hard he's worked at it."

Canucks coach Marc Crawford viewed it from the opposite side.

"Our coverage was lax," Crawford said. "Varada got knocked down on his keister by Jovanovski, got right back up and beat him to the net."

Now the Sabres have to continue their success and build a bigger winning streak than just two. If they don't then they will find themselves out of the playoff picture before the Olympic Games break. At the beginning of the year, no one would have believed that the Sabres would be in such dire straits.

"I never would have thought it," admitted McKee. "I've said all along I've got a ton of confidence in this team and I would have never thought we would dig ourselves the hole we have dug to this point. But we have and there's only one way out of it and it's hard work. And we're starting to see it."


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