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He came out to challenge shooters. He slid across the crease for kick saves. He even did a little stickhandling behind his net.

But Ryan Miller's NHL debut was spoiled with 3:37 left in overtime, when Scott Niedermayer's goal gave the New Jersey Devils a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.

The loss brings the Sabres' current losing streak to seven games and their winless streak to 12. Both marks tie franchise futility records. The Sabres went 0-8-4 from Nov. 23 to Dec. 20, 1991, while the seven-game losing streak has been done three times before.

The frustration lies not just in the string of losses, but in the way in which the Sabres seem to go down night after night. It's not as if they look like the Bad News Bears on ice.

Coach Lindy Ruff likes to compare it to basement furniture -- no finish.

"We missed a ton of opportunities to put it away," Ruff said. "We played a pretty sound game. We didn't give up a lot. It's unfortunate. . . . We had the better chances and I thought we played 60 minutes."

Buffalo had built a 2-0 lead off a pair of power-play goals. Curtis Brown got his first goal of the year when he deflected a shot by Miroslav Satan in the first period while the Sabres enjoyed a two-minute, two-man advantage.

Chris Gratton extended the lead to 2-0 in the second period, but Buffalo fanned on two chances to build a bigger cushion. Satan found himself alone in front of Martin Brodeur, only to have the Devils' goalie knock the puck away. The same fate befell Tim Connolly, who couldn't bury the puck when he was alone in front.

"Look at what Brodeur did for them with the key saves he made," Ruff said. "We worked hard to create all those chances. Our power play scored us a couple big goals and when you don't bury those opportunities you don't put a team away."

For two periods, Miller made just as many big saves. He looked confident for most of the game, giving up his first goal just under three minutes into the third period when Oleg Tverdovsky scored to cut the Sabres' lead to 2-1.

It was a 66-second span midway through the third period that became the Sabres' undoing. Streaking out of the penalty box, New Jersey's John Madden picked up the puck for a breakaway, beating Miller stick side to tie the game at 9:35.

Just over a minute later, Jeff Friesen muscled around the defense to beat Miller again on the stick side and give the Devils a 3-2 lead.

J.P. Dumont forced overtime with a goal with 5:10 left, but there wasn't enough luck left for the Sabres.

Miller made 21 saves in his NHL debut and, despite the loss, looked rather comfortable in net. In the first period he came out to challenge Madden on a two-on-one, making the save. Later, he went behind his net to play the puck, setting up a power play rush.

"I felt pretty good," the 22-year-old rookie said. "I got over the nervousness. Luckily, I could make a glove save early, feel the puck and handle it. I was a little anxious to get through the third period and it won't happen next time. I made some small mistakes I don't want to see myself make again."

Miller was caught out of position on the game-winning goal.

"I got back up as quickly as I could," he said. "The puck hit my pad and stick. (Niedermayer) managed to go top shelf."

The Devils came away impressed by Miller's poise.

"He looked really sharp at the beginning of the game," Madden said. "He wasn't sure of some things so he started coming out of his net really, really far. I think the defense did a good job hiding some of his deficiencies coming out of the net."

Miller's approach in practice and in the preseason caught the attention of Ruff and brought about comparisons to a former Sabres goaltender.

"I haven't been around him a lot, but from the standpoint of what I see watching him in practice, is that when a goal gets by him, you can see him thinking about it, wondering how did that go in?" Ruff said. "You can see him thinking about how that went it, what he did wrong. He reminds me a little bit of (Dominik Hasek) in that sense. He has a similar mannerism in replaying situations in his head."
Martin Biron got the nod as Miller's backup. Ruff scratched Mika Noronen and forward Rob Ray while defenseman Henrik Tallinder remained out of the lineup with a separated shoulder. New Jersey scratched leading goal scorer Jamie Langenbrunner (stomach virus) and defenseman Tommy Albelin. . . . A sparse crowd of 11,841 was the announced attendance at Continental Airlines Arena. . . . The Sabres host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com