Series (Game 4 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

Panthers 1

(23-33-9, 67 pts)

Sabres 2

(24-35-8, 65 pts)

7:00 PM ET, March 26, 2003

First Niagara Center, Buffalo, New York

1 2 3 T
FLA 1 0 01
BUF 1 1 02

M. Noronen (Sabres - G): Saves: 29, Save Pct.: .967

J. Hecht (Sabres - C): Goals: 0, Assists: 1

R. Luongo (Panthers - G): Saves: 24, Save Pct.: .923

Briere: Four goals in eight games since trade

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Daniel Briere hasn't wasted any time gelling with his new linemates.


Briere's power-play goal late in the second period gave the Buffalo Sabres a 2-1 win over the Florida on Wednesday night, the Panthers' fourth straight loss. Centering a line with J.P. Dumont and Jochen Hecht, Briere has four goals in eight games.

"When I get traded some of the worries are am I going to fit in with team?'' said Briere, who Buffalo acquired from Phoenix earlier this month for Chris Gratton. "Am I going to find a spot somewhere to help out the team? So far everything has worked out.''

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said he couldn't have asked for anything more from the line. With an assist on the winning goal Hecht has six points in the last five games. Dumont went scoreless but has four points in the last five games.

"It's just a pleasant surprise,'' Ruff said. "They like playing together. They create a lot every game. Tonight they were in on five or six great chances.''

With Olli Jokinen off for hooking, Briere tipped Miroslav Satan's shot from the point past Robert Luongo with 39 seconds left in the period for his 21st goal.

"What a play by Miro,'' Briere said. "I just got open on the side of the net. And that's what good players do. They see who's open on the side of the net. He made a great pass.''

Jokinen said Briere acknowledged he dove to draw the penalty.

"I think things happened so quickly the referee really didn't see it,'' Jokinen said.

"He was fair enough when I asked him if he did a dive. He said 'Yeah,''' he added.

That didn't sit well with Florida coach Mike Keenan.

"It was a nosedive, a swan dive,'' Keenan said. "He flipped backward when he was doing it.''

Chris Taylor also scored his first NHL goal since Jan. 20, 2000 as Buffalo won its second straight.

Kristian Huselius scored for Florida, which has only one goal in the last four games.

"Our offense is something that needs to be addressed,'' Keenan said. "These people have not been able to find an offensive groove.''

Buffalo tied it at 1 with 7:55 left in the first when Norm Milley deked Igor Kravchuk and fired a shot from the right circle. Luongo made the save but Taylor put the rebound past the Florida goalie. Taylor has five goals in 90 career NHL games.

Luongo, who finished with 24 saves, kept Florida in the game when he stopped Jason Botterill on a breakaway with 5:22 left. Luongo left the game with 3:24 left when Ales Kotalik's shot struck him on the left kneecap. X-rays were negative and Luongo said he could play Thursday in St. Louis despite a bruise.

Mika Noronen, playing in his 13th game, stopped 29 shots for Buffalo. His only other win this season came against Florida on March 8.

"We needed a couple big saves and we got that,'' Ruff said. "It wasn't that we outplayed them. It was a pretty even game from that point of view.''

Noronen, a top prospect who was sent to the AHL earlier this year, feels he's found his confidence.

"After you play a few games in a row, you feel better and you feel much more happy. You don't have to think about hockey that much,'' he said.

Florida opened the scoring 5:31 in when Huselius' centering pass from behind the net deflected off the back of Noronen's right leg and in for his 20th goal.

Buffalo nearly took the lead late the second when Satan fed Jochen Hecht down the middle, but Luongo swept his glove across the crease to prevent the goal.

Game notes

Florida assistant coach Duane Sutter did not travel to Buffalo after having a second surgery Tuesday for a cracked right orbital he broke last week at a hockey clinic when a puck struck him in the eye. ... Sabres D Radoslav Hecl played after missing eight games with concussion. ... The game featured the first experiment with one referee following the puck and the other trailing the play. The NHL will experiment with the system in games involving some teams out of contention for the rest of the season.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press