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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.

"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.



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