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Miroslav Satan's shoulders slumped, but not like before.

His posture was not that of frustration, but of sweet relief. He had snapped the puck into the net, and the red light provided validation. Yes, it was a goal.

The Buffalo Sabres' winger skated into the corner and bowed his head in a bit of body language that befitted his thankful state of mind. Then he dropped to the ice and rolled over four times in exaltation.

"I had to make sure the monkey on my back was dead," said Satan, who hadn't scored in 13 games. "I tried to give it a little crush."

From the bench, Chris Gratton watched his teammate's celebration. Gratton desperately wanted to get on a roll, too.

After Satan averted a career-long scoring slump with a short-handed goal in the waning seconds of the first period, Gratton doused a 28-game drought in the closing moments of the second period to help the Sabres post a 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils Saturday night in a sold-out HSBC Arena.

"His slump was a mini-slump," Gratton said. "Mine was a major one. When you see Miro score, it's a confidence builder for him, and it makes you bear down a little more as well.

"You want the team to do well first. But when guys do go on slumps it's nice to see a bounce go their way. It's always great to see guys bust out of slumps and see smiles go back on faces."

Between the pipes it was a double Martin night, but Buffalo's Martin Biron outdueled Canadian Olympic member Martin Brodeur.

Biron made 27 saves, while Brodeur stopped only 18 shots. Brodeur didn't face a shot in the second period until he was shaken and stirred by Gratton's rocket shot.

It seemed in the early stages Buffalo's bad breaks would keep on coming. For the second time in three games a referee blew a call because he blew his whistle too soon, denying Buffalo a first-period goal. Satan got robbed Tuesday. It was Tim Connolly on Saturday.

But the Sabres finally got a "No Goal" call of their own with 27 seconds left in the game, when an apparent game-tying goal by Jason Arnott was waved off because the goal had come off its moorings.

The victory was vital for the Sabres. It drew them within four points of the Devils for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. It also gives the Sabres, winners of three out of their past four outings, momentum heading into next week's four-game Western road trip.

"You go on the road feeling good about your team," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's a four-point gap with New Jersey. Now we have to build off that."

Satan's skid would have become the longest of his seven-year NHL career had he not scored Saturday.

It appeared he would attain the personal lowlight after he missed a wide open net for the second time in three games, a letdown that made his goal all the more relieving.

Sabres defenseman Jay McKee started the breakout with a pass to Satan streaking into the neutral zone. Satan, with Brian Rafalski on his heels, fought off the Devils defenseman and then skated in on Brodeur, firing a shot from between the hash marks. Brodeur blocked the puck with his right pad, but the rebound went right back to Satan, who stuffed the shot inside the right post.

The goal, coming with 20.2 seconds left in the first period, was Satan's fourth short-handed tally and 14th overall.

The Devils tied the game with 1:53 left in the second period and Sabres left wing Taylor Pyatt in the penalty box on a high-sticking double minor. Bruce Gardiner, stationed in front of Biron, tipped a screen shot from Scott Niedermayer. Biron didn't stand a chance.

Gratton put the Sabres back on top, 2-1, on their first shot of the second period, rifling the puck over Brodeur's left shoulder from the outer edge of the right circle with 39.7 seconds left in the frame.

"If you analyze that goal, it's a bad goal," Ruff said. "But with his shot, he's got a chance to beat some goaltenders. He just blew it right by him."

Gratton took a shot in front of the Sabres' bench, and a few feet behind him Ruff had a difficult time containing a smile.

"There was a lot of smiles, including me finally," Ruff said. "I don't smile that often and get criticized for that, too. But I don't think Grats has smiled for a long time either."

Gratton, the subject of trade talks for well over a month, hadn't scored since Nov. 8. He has four goals and nine assists.

"Lindy's really stuck through me through this tough time here," Gratton said. "There's a great bunch of guys here. I haven't contributed as much offensively, and it's hurt the team. We need four lines going, and when a guy's in a big slump like that it hurts. But the guys have been confidence in me. Hopefully, I can go the other way and give some back."
e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com