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Thibault posts shutout as Sabres sweep home-and-home with 3-0 win over Habs

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

MONTREAL - It wasn't just another game for Jocelyn Thibault on Saturday night, and his Buffalo Sabres teammates knew it.

Thibault made 24 saves to shutout his former team in his hometown and the Buffalo Sabres got goals from Jaroslav Spacek and Thomas Vanek to sweep a home-and-home series with a 3-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

"It's always special anytime I get to play against Montreal, especially here, and I was just happy (head coach) Lindy (Ruff) gave me a chance to play," said Thibault, who played parts of four seasons for the Canadiens from 1995 to 1998. "I think guys knew that this game meant something special to me, coming back home, and the guys put up a great effort tonight."

Derek Roy extended his point streak to five games with an assist and Jochen Hecht scored into an empty net for the Sabres (10-10-1), who won their fourth straight - with three of those coming against the Canadiens - to even their record for the first time since Nov. 1.

"I feel we've been playing the way we've played for the last two and a half years," Roy said. "We kind of got away from that, but now we're playing the same style as before. We keep rolling lines, everybody's playing and it doesn't matter who gets the goal or who gets the glory, all that matters is the win."

Cristobal Huet made 32 saves for the Canadiens (12-8-3), who lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season after losing 4-2 in Buffalo on Friday. Huet began the season with only one regulation loss in his first eight starts, but he has since lost five of his last seven.

Thibault made his first start since Nov. 2 and only his third of the season to run his record to 2-1-0.

"I've been practising all season almost like they were games, especially this week because I knew I would play in this game," Thibault said. "I just acted like it was a practice and I felt comfortable out there. I didn't know I would get a shutout, but I knew I would play a solid game."

After coming out of the gates quickly to outshoot the Sabres 6-0 through the first seven minutes of the game, Montreal was outshot 35-18 the rest of the way.

"Jocelyn made some great saves for us and that sparked the team," Roy said. "The guys were working hard for him after that."

Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau split up the first line of Saku Koivu, Michael Ryder and Christopher Higgins midway through the second period and used them on various line combinations in the third.

"There are certain players who feel too comfortable right now, I can see it," Carbonneau said. "We'll see what we can do about it, either by talking to them or by changing players."

Koivu, Higgins and Ryder have combined for 13 points in their last 11 games, and they are a collective minus-9 over that span.

"Huet or (Carey) Price might steal a game or two, but if we come with that effort we're going to lose nine out of 10 times," Higgins said. "(The line juggling) needed to happen. Guys weren't skating and guys weren't playing the right way. It sends a pretty clear message when the lines are mixed up. It leaves an impression on you and wakes guys up. I probably would have done it earlier if I was him."

After a scoreless first period, the Sabres took advantage of the second hooking penalty of the game called on Tom Kostopoulos to jump ahead 1-0. Brian Campbell's point shot rang off the post behind Huet and bounced right to Spacek, who rifled it into an open side for his fifth of the season at 9:38 - only nine seconds after the penalty to Kostopoulos.

Buffalo took a 2-0 lead less than five minutes later when Vanek and Michael Ryan rushed the Canadiens net and took several swings at a loose puck before Vanek finally got it past Huet at 13:54 for his sixth of the season.

The Canadiens were handed a golden opportunity to get back into the game when Vanek and Hecht took back-to-back penalties late in the third, but Montreal was unable to create any pressure on Thibault during the nearly four-minute power play.

Hecht iced it with an empty-netter at 19:33 of the third.

Buffalo was completing its seventh set of back-to-back games this season and earned a sweep for the second time. It was only the third set of two games in two nights for Montreal, and it was the first loss in the back end of those games.

Notes: Montreal D Francis Bouillon was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. His spot was filled by Josh Gorges, who played his eighth game of the season. CarbonneauaBuffalo plays 20 sets of back-to-back games this season, representing nearly half its schedule. The Canadiens play only 10 sets of two games in two nights this season.


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