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Associated Press
11/17/2006 11:13:01 PM


BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - It didn't take long for Maxim Afinogenov to regain his scoring touch.

Afinogenov had a goal and an assist in his return from a shoulder injury and the Buffalo Sabres beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 Friday night.

Afinogenov missed five games after injuring his shoulder Nov. 4 against Toronto, and was the team's leading scorer when he went down.

"The first couple of shifts I was careful because I wanted to see how I felt," he said. "When I got a couple of hits, I knew it was good and I could just relax and play my game. I wanted to come back and help the team, and I think that's what I did this game."

Afinogenov put Buffalo in front with a power-play goal 6:06 into the game. Standing just above the goal line to the left of Pittsburgh goalie Jocelyn Thibault, he converted Daniel Briere's cross-ice pass with a quick wrist shot that got between Thibault and the post for his ninth goal.

The Russian leaped into the air in jubilation when the puck went into the net, and the Sabres knew their electrifying forward was back on board.

"To get Max back was a big plus," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "He gave us instant energy."

Thomas Vanek, Chris Drury and Ales Kotalik also scored for the Sabres, who used two power-play goals to help secure their league-leading 16th victory. Drury also added an assist as Buffalo won for the fifth time in its last six games.

Martin Biron made 34 saves, including 16 in the second period, to win his fourth game since taking over the starting goaltender duties from the injured Ryan Miller.

The game was a bit bittersweet for Biron, who likely will relinquish the post Saturday when the Sabres travel to Ottawa. Miller is expected to start against the Senators.

"I would say it got better every time I was out there," Biron said. "My timing got to where I wanted it to be. Tonight I felt I was pushing hard, in the shooting lane and aggressive. I think it really made a difference."

Sidney Crosby had two goals for the Penguins, who have lost six of their last seven. Mark Recchi added two assists.

"We can play with these teams, but when we do it has to be for 60 minutes," said Crosby, who made it 3-2 with 1:01 to go.

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