Sterling’s shootout goal gives Thrashers win

BUFFALO, New York (Ticker) — Brett Sterling, back in the NHL
for the first time since November, became a hero for the Atlanta
Thrashers on Saturday night.

Hours after being called up from the minors, the 24-year old
rookie scored the only goal in a shootout, giving Atlanta a 4-3
victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

“I was kind of surprised,” said Sterling, who played in his
fourth NHL game this season after playing in 13 last season. “I
haven’t done great in shootouts in the American league the last
two years, but (coach John Anderson) gave me an opportunity. I
had to put it upstairs, and I got it right up.”

“I had him for a couple of years in (the AHL with) Chicago,”
Anderson said. “I saw him score 55 goals and go about 60 percent
on shootouts. When he gets around the net with a little bit of
time, he’s usually pretty deadly.”

Sterling’s chance in the fourth round of the tiebreaker came
about because of Todd White, who forced overtime for Atlanta by
scoring with 3.5 seconds remaining in regulation. He swatted in
a rebound after Buffalo goalie Patrick Lalime could not control
Ron Hainsey’s slap shot from the high slot.

“I tried to go to he net,” White said. “I saw it lying there and
just went for it.”

“In the last minute, we basically gave it away,” Lalime said.
“It squeezed through. He came with a two-handed swat and there
was no way for me to hold it down.”

“We have to make sure the puck stays in the corner or gets out,”
Buffalo defenseman Toni Lydman said.

For Buffalo, which earned a point with the shootout loss, it was
little consolation. The Sabres have lost three of their last
four games and are 10th in the Eastern Conference. They did move
within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot.

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“Your three best shooters go out in the shootout and don’t get a
goal,” said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who saw Derek Roy, Tim
Connolly, Drew Stafford, and Thomas Vanek all come up empty in
the shootout. “That makes it tough.”

Slava Kozlov and Marty Reasoner also scored for Atlanta, a 13th
place team playing the role of spoiler. The Thrashers have won
five straight, equaling their season-high.

“We’re trying to grow as a team and set the standard for next
year,” Anderson said. “We want to win as many games as we can.”

Derek Roy had a goal and an assist in a 3:12 span in the second
period for the Sabres. Daniel Paille and Maxim Afinogenov also
scored for the Sabres, and Patrick Lalime made 29 saves.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 34 shots for Atlanta, who played without
star left wing Ilya Kovalychuk because of an upper-body injury.
He was hurt Thursday night a 4-3 overtime win at Edmonton.

Kozlov opened the scoring on a power-play goal with 26 seconds
left in the first period. He banged in a rebound after Lalime
stopped an initial shot by Zach Bogosian.

In the second period, Roy fed Paille for a tying goal with 6:41
remaining. Roy chipped a loose puck into the offensive zone and
backhanded a pass from the right corner to the charging Paille
for a tip-in.

Roy then scored with 3:29 to go, putting Buffalo on top for good
as his slap shot from the blue line was tipped by Atlanta
defenseman Boris Valabik. Afinogenov made it 3-1 before the
period’s end by banging in a pass from Thomas Vanek.

Reasoner scored a short-handed goal with 6:34 remaining to get
Atlanta to within one goal.

Lalime, making his ninth straight start, is 3-4-2 since taking
over for injured starter Ryan Miller.

Atlanta’s other five-game winning streak this season was done
between Nov. 2-14.