Series (Game 3 of 4)

Buffalo leads 2-1

Game 1: Friday, December 20th
Game 2: Monday, February 24th
Game 3: Saturday, March 8th
Game 4: Wednesday, March 26th

Sabres 4

(21-32-6, 56 pts)

Panthers 0

(21-27-9, 63 pts)

7:30 PM ET, March 8, 2003

BB&T Center, Sunrise, Florida

1 2 3 T
BUF 1 2 14
FLA 0 0 00

M. Noronen (Sabres - G): Saves: 29, Save Pct.: 1.000

B. Campbell (Sabres - D): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

A. Kotalik (Sabres - RW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

Ruff joins Bowman with 210 career victories

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- Mika Noronen was happy about getting his first career shutout. Considering the season he's had, just getting a victory was reason enough to celebrate.

 Mika Noronen

"It's been a while," Noronen said after making 29 saves in Buffalo's 4-0 victory over Florida on Saturday night. "It's been almost a year since my last win. I'm really happy about that."

Noronen, 1-7-1 this season, was making only his second start since being recalled from the minors Feb. 22. His last victory came March 24, 2002, when the Sabres beat Ottawa 3-2 in overtime.

"I'm happy for Mika," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's been an emotional struggle for him. It's been a physical battle to be ready to play on limited time.

"I think the mental part of it is just being sent down and playing down there again where he had a hard time dealing with that. It's great to see him come back up and play the way he's played in the two games he's played."

It also was a big night for Ruff, who tied Scott Bowman as the winningest coach in Buffalo history with 210 victories.

"I would have hoped it would have happened a lot sooner this season," Ruff said.

Stu Barnes and Jochen Hecht scored 37 seconds apart in the second period to give Buffalo a 3-0 lead.

Defenseman Brian Campbell and rookie Ales Kotalik also scored for the Sabres, who have won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 11 and 14. The Sabres beat Toronto on Thursday night.

"We're running a good stretch right now," Hecht said. "We're winning a lot of games and playing really well. It's nice to have fun when we go out and play the game."

Jani Hurme made 21 saves for Florida, 0-6-2-1 in its last nine home games.

The Panthers began the day in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, eight points out of eighth place. Florida was coming off a 2-1 victory at Atlanta on Friday night.

"That's no excuse," All-Star center Olli Jokinen said. "That's the schedule, everybody has to play back-to-back games. We just have to have our legs ready early in the game. We should be the team that was ready. It seems to be the other way around tonight."

Barnes made it 2-0 at 9:56 of the second period. Florida defenseman Andreas Lilja broke his stick when he took a slap shot after crossing the blue line and headed to the bench to get a new stick. In the meantime, Buffalo defenseman Rhett Warriner cleared the rebound toward the neutral zone and found Barnes, who had gotten behind Lilja. Coming down on a two-on-one, Barnes fired a slap shot that beat Hurme on the short side.

"We took advantage of a break," Ruff said.

Hecht made it 3-0 on a power play when he found himself alone to the left of Hurme and put a wrist shot between the goalie's pads and the near post.

Hecht was making his return after missing nine games because of a wrist injury. Hecht, who has missed 34 games because of injuries this season, hadn't scored since Nov. 9.

"It felt nice," Hecht said. "It's been a long time. It's real good for my confidence."

Campbell opened the scoring at 16:33 of the first period when he fired a wrist shot from the slot past a diving Hurme. Maxim Afinogenov's pass from behind the net went through a couple of players before Campbell grabbed the loose puck.

Kotalik closed out the scoring when he beat Hurme on a breakaway at 3:47 of the third period.

Game notes
Florida traded defenseman Brad Ference to Phoenix for left wing Darcy Hordichuk and a second-round pick in the 2003 draft. Hordichuk has 261 penalty minutes in 70 NHL games. ``He's a miserable guy to play against,'' Panthers general manager Rick Dudley said. ... Florida has been held to two goals or less in its last eight games. ... Florida defenseman Igor Ulanov returned after missing two games because of a toe injury.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press