Afinogenov scores winning goal to lead Sabres to 2-1 decision over Panthers

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Afinogenov scored during Buffalo's 5-on-3 advantage early in the third period as the Sabres held on for a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. The goal snapped a power-play slump that had reached 3-for-48 over nine games. The Sabres failed on their first five chances Thursday before Afinogenov scored. "It's a step in the right direction," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We'll just keep working at it.

"You're going to have some valleys and some peaks. We're in a valley right now."

Afinogenov, who also had an assist, took a pass across the front of the goal from Chris Drury and gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead 1:19 into the final period.

"He probably knew I would be there," Afinogenov said. "I was on the far side, and he threw the puck there.

"I was by myself there and put it in."

Thomas Vanek scored in the second, six seconds after another power play ended. Ruff treated that one as a power-play goal, too.

"Their player didn't get back into play, and I'll grab hold of anything I can," he said.

Ryan Miller made 32 saves for the Sabres, who won their third straight.

Jozef Stumpel scored for Florida, which has dropped four straight, all one-goal decisions. Ed Belfour stopped 14 shots as Buffalo fired a season-low 16 shots.

"We could have created more traffic in front," Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said. "If you don't get traffic on him, nine out of 10 times he'll stop the puck."

"They got more shots, but they were from the outside. We had more chances," said Afinogenov, who has points in 11 of 13 games since missing five with a shoulder injury. "When we got the chance, we put it in."

Once Buffalo took its final lead, Miller held Florida at bay, making 11 saves in the final 18 minutes, including a stop on Stumpel with 1:17 to go. Miller also stopped six shots during the Panthers' two power plays in the final period.

"They got their shots, but I was able to see the puck," Miller said. "We tried to play a patient game."

Florida has scored 17 goals in 10 games, posting a 2-6-2 record. In that time, the Panthers have been forced to play without several injured players.

"We have to find a way to win and find a way to score some goals," Jokinen said.

In the last two weeks, they have lost Joe Nieuwendyk to retirement and Stephen Weiss to an injured shoulder sustained Tuesday against Anaheim.

"We're missing some guys," Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. "You can't fault the effort.

"You just hope to get more production."

Vanek gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead 4:20 into the second period. While in the slot with his back to the net, Vanek took a pass from Derek Roy, spun, switched hands and put the puck past Belfour for his team-leading 18th goal.

Stumpel tied it less than three minutes later, scooping up a loose puck in the left corner and firing a wrist shot past Miller's left leg.

The Sabres paid back Florida for a 3-1 loss seven days earlier.

Notes: The Sabres began a stretch of six of nine at home. They were 3-2 on their five-game road trip . . . Buffalo D Teppo Numminen returned after missing two games with a broken toe. Drury also came back after being sidelined with the flu Tuesday at New Jersey . . . Florida is 4-11 in one-goal games, while Buffalo improved to 14-2.



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