Thrashers 4, Sabres 2
Lehtonen made 34 saves, including 25 in the final two periods, and Brad Larsen scored two goals in Atlanta’s 4-2 victory over the Sabres on Wednesday night in the first game for both teams since the Olympic break.
After shaking off a sluggish first period, Lehtonen got into his groove in the final 40 minutes, and made one big save after another to frustrate the Sabres shooters.
“There weren’t many tough ones in the first period when I didn’t feel that comfortable,” said Lehtonen, who beat the Sabres for the first time in three career games. “In the second and third I found my game, and after that I was hoping they would get even more shots because I felt so comfortable.”
Lehtonen has been feeling more comfortable since missing 35 games after injuring his groin in the opener, and made his 11th consecutive start on Wednesday, adding to his career high.
“I’m just so excited to get out there every game and play,” he said. “I’m happy that I can just be out there and help this team.”
With the victory, the Thrashers moved within two points of Montreal for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres are fourth in the conference, seven points behind first-place Carolina.
“That’s a team that is one of the best when it comes to four balanced lines,” Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said. “There’s no weaknesses and they are tough to play. So to leave this building with a win is certainly a big plus for us.”
Vyacheslav Kozlov and Niclas Havelid also scored to help the Thrashers win for the fourth time in their last five games.
“Basically the playoffs start now for us,” Larsen said. “We need to win, and need all the wins we can get.”
“We made a lot of things happen real slow,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “We always took the extra second to shoot.”
Kozlov opened the scoring on a power play with 2:49 left in the first period, and Havelid pushed Atlanta’s lead to 2-0 1:48 into the second.
Drury closed the gap nearly 3 minutes later with a power-play goal, but Larsen made it 3-1 with his fourth goal, wristing a shot past Miller and into the top right corner from the left circle.
“I didn’t get a great read on it,” Miller said. “I knew he was cutting across, but I didn’t see him release it. He got it up, and it was good placement.”
Larsen iced it with an empty-net, short-handed goal with less than a minute to go to make it 4-1, and Afinogenov closed the scoring 14 seconds later.
“We have guys that are going to score, so it’s nice to help out in games like these when they are not scoring,” said Larsen, who had his first career two-goal game.
Miller finished with 21 saves in making his 10th consecutive start.
Marc Savard added two assists for Atlanta, 2-for-6 on the power play.
The Sabres were 2-for-9 with the man advantage.
“Execution wasn’t our strong suit,” Ruff said. “We made enough mistakes to lose it, and didn’t finish enough plays to win.”
Buffalo co-captain Daniel Briere, who assisted on Drury’s goal, returned to the lineup after missing 32 of the last 35 games because of a sports hernia. … Buffalo forward Jochen Hecht also returned after missing two games because of a knee injury. … Thrashers forward Bobby Holik played in his first game since breaking his foot against Washington on Jan. 1. He missed 18 games. … Savard has nine points in his last six games. … Havelid was part of the Swedish gold-medal winning team.