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Rheaume, Heatley 1-2 punch for Atlanta

11/10/2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Richard Smehlik gave his new teammates an
incentive to beat the club that let him go.

Smehlik was a team-record plus-6, and Pascal Rheaume and Dany Heatley each scored twice as the Atlanta Thrashers beat the
slumping Buffalo Sabres 6-4 Saturday night.

Smehlik, who signed with the Thrashers in the offseason,
promised his teammates money and a night on the town if they beat
the Sabres.

Buffalo is winless in eight games (0-6-2), four short of the
team record set in 1990-91.

Thrashers' coach Curt Fraser was thrilled with his team's second
victory of the season, not to mention being able to cash in on
Smehlik's offer.

"He put $1,000 on the board for the win so the guys could go
out and have some fun,'' Fraser said. "We wanted to make him
pay.''

"It's true,'' said Smehlik. "It's exciting beating your old
team."

Buffalo took a quick 2-0 lead on goals from Jochen Hecht, his
team-leading fifth of the season, and Ales Kotalik.

Ilya Kovalchuk put Atlanta on the board with his eighth of the
season at 15:47.

Rheaume's first goal of the season was a shorthanded tally at
19:44 of the first period, tying it at 2. Rheaume took a pass from
Per Svartvadet at the blue line and flipped a weak backhander that
appeared to bounce in off Martin Biron's blocker.

"I'm not the type of guy who'll score 50 goals a year,''
Rheaume said. "I need to get lucky sometimes.''

Buffalo went ahead 3-2 early in the second period when Hecht
made a perfect pass to a streaking J.P. Dumont in the slot. It was
Dumont's first goal since opening night.

Buffalo's lead lasted all of 34 seconds. Heatley picked off
Brian Campbell's clearing pass inside the blue line before beating
Biron with a wrist shot to his glove side.

Chris Herperger brought a premature end to Biron's night,
burying a shot between the goalie's legs at 12:25. Mika Noronen
replaced Biron 10 seconds later.

This was the second time this week Buffalo has blown a two-goal
lead, adding to the frustrated atmosphere in the Sabres' locker
room.

Coach Lindy Ruff, who left the dressing room door closed for 20
minutes following the game, said this is as low as he's ever felt.

"The feeling of losing this game is like being eliminated from
the playoffs,'' Ruff said. "I don't know if we can get any
lower.''

In a highly unusual move, every Sabres player sat at his locker
to face the media.

"I've never ever had a sick feeling playing hockey, but I do
now,'' defenseman Jay McKee said. "I don't have any answers.''

Rhett Warrener echoed McKee's sentiments.

"Good teams find ways to win, and bad teams find ways to lose.
Right now we're a bad team,'' Warrener said.

Rheaume cemented the Thrashers' victory when he scored on a
breakaway at 13:28 of the third.

Heatley scored Atlanta's final goal into an empty net.

Pasi Nurminen stopped 24 shots to get the win for Atlanta.

Chris Gratton also scored for Buffalo.

Game notes
Atlanta GM Don Waddell wouldn't confirm rumors the
Thrashers were close to signing free agent goalie Byron Dafoe.
"We've talked to him the last couple of weeks, but we've never
been in a situation where we've discussed dollars. At this point
we'll hold course and give our guys a chance to prove they're
capable of playing like we thought they were before the season
started.'' ... The last player to record a plus-6 in a game was
Brent Sopel of Vancouver last Jan. 21. ... Buffalo D Alexei Zhitnik
served the first of a two-game suspension for a kneeing infraction
against Carolina on Thursday. ... Miroslav Satan (bruised hip)
missed his third straight game.