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BACK ON TRACK

Saturday, 01.14.2012 / 12:24 AM / THE AFTERMATH
By Kevin Snow  - Sabres.com (@kwsnow)
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BACK ON TRACK

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With a lengthy road trip staring them in the face, it was imperative that the Buffalo Sabres leave their home fans with a lovely parting gift in a game where they desperately needed two points.

And they happily obliged.

Jason Pominville scored the game winner late in the second period, and Ryan Miller turned away 24 Toronto shots, as the Sabres snapped a three-game winless streak with a 3-2 victory over the Maple Leafs on Friday at First Niagara Center.

Buffalo evened their overall record at 19-19-5, and they are now 11-9-5 at home. The Sabres head out for a seven-game trip starting Saturday against the New York Islanders. Their next home game isn’t until February 1 against the New York Rangers.

Just like their first trip to Buffalo in mid-December, the Maple Leafs brought a large contingent of fans with them that created a wild atmosphere at First Niagara Center. But with the Toronto fans at full throat early, the Sabres silenced them with two quick goals on their first three shots from a pair of unlikely sources.

Matt Ellis opened the scoring with his third goal of the year when his pass from behind the Maple Leafs net bounced off the skate of Cody Franson and past a surprised Jonas Gustavsson.

Moments later Paul Gaustad pulled up at the right faceoff dot, and using Carl Gunnarsson as a screen, fired a wrist shot over Gustavsson’s glove. It was Gaustad’s fourth of the season, and second in his last five games.

With all the bounces that have gone against the Sabres in recent weeks, Lindy Ruff knew it was about time that they got a few of their own.

“We haven’t had many of those and I thought it was nice to see (Ellis’ goal) go in,” said Ruff. “And then Paul’s shot I thought kind of surprised him. Actually Paul had one in the second period, same thing, that almost beat him.”

But just when it looked like the Sabres were going to run away and hide with this one, Toronto came back with two quick goals of their own in the late stages of the opening period. Mikhail Grabovski used a fortuitous bounce off the end boards to cut the lead in half at the 14-minute mark. Then after a Mike Weber turnover in the slot, Grabovski fed a wide-open Joey Crabb at 16:52 to even the score.

Ryan Miller didn’t think that losing a two-goal lead was going to affect his team tonight.

“This was a night when we were able to push back. I think some of the little things we’ve been trying to work on helped us in the third and late in the second when we did have the lead.”

In a sluggish second period that saw the two teams combine for just 19 shots, Buffalo carried the lead into the second intermission when the team’s leading scorers connected yet again.

Thomas Vanek grabbed the puck in the Toronto corner and saucered a beautiful pass through the slot to Jason Pominville, who knocked it down and converted his 15th of the year. It was the 31st time this season the duo have combined on a goal, trailing only Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s 36 for most in the league.

Ruff was pleased with his team’s overall effort.

“We had to kill and battle, and I think coming out with a win after going through a little bit of adversity in this game, it’s probably a good boost for the guys too.”

STAT OF THE NIGHT: The Sabres are now 16-4-2 when scoring three or more goals in a game, and 16-2-1 when allowing two or fewer

NOTES: Derek Roy returned to the lineup after missing two games with a shoulder injury … Buffalo improved to 14-0-2 when leading after two periods … Jordan Leopold led both teams in TOI with 28:16 … This was the start of Buffalo’s 12th of a league-high 21 sets of back to-back games. They are now 7-5-0 in the first game, and head into Long Island on Saturday with a record of 5-4-2 in the second game … Cody McCormick (healthy) and Christian Ehrhoff (upper body) were Buffalo’s scratches. Ehrhoff was injured in Washington on December 30, and has now missed six games.

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