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Canadiens 3, Sabres 2

March 19, 1996

MONTREAL (AP) _ The Montreal Canadiens would probably trade their first victory over the Buffalo Sabres in 2 1/2 years for the health of two of their best defensemen.

Montreal’s 3-2 victory over Buffalo on Monday night was overshadowed by the loss of Stephane Quintal and Vladimir Malakhov with only 13 regular-season games left.

``This will keep (general manager) Rejean Houle busy for the next couple of days,″ Canadiens coach Mario Tremblay said.

The trading deadline is Wednesday, and the Canadiens (34-27-8) are in dire need of a left-handed defenseman to help them make the playoffs. Montreal, winners of seven straight home games _ including the first two at the new Molson Centre _ are fifth in the Eastern Conference, but only two points ahead of eighth-place Tampa Bay.

``Vladimir was playing like the best defenseman in the league,″ Vincent Damphousse said. ``This was the best hockey we’d seen from him all season. At least we still have a couple of days to trade for a defenseman.″

Quintal is listed as day-to-day after re-aggravating a knee injury in the first period, while Malakhov is out for five to six weeks after tearing ligaments in his left knee five minutes into the second period.

Buffalo (27-36-7) got first-period goals from Matthew Barnaby and Jason Dawe. Patrice Brisebois cut it to 2-1 midway through the first period, and Andrei Kovalenko scored his 25th and 26th goals as the Canadiens ended am 0-7-3 streak against the Sabres.

``We’re getting offense from everywhere,″ Damphousse said. ``Kovalenko has been very strong lately.″

Montreal has six players with at least 20 goals, and rookies Valeri Bure and Saku Koivu have 16 and 17, respectively.

``We started off well,″ said Pat LaFontaine, the subject of recent trade rumors, ``but Montreal took advantage of its chances better than we did.″

The Sabres scored on their first two shots of the game, but were shut down by Jocelyn Thibault, who regrouped to stop the next 23 shots. Buffalo had beaten Montreal twice this season by one goal.

Kovalenko tied it 2-2 with five seconds left in the opening period, and scored his sixth game-winning goal of the season midway through the second on a wraparound that beat Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. Hasek stopped 32 shots and had Canadiens buzzing around the net for most of the game.

The third period was scoreless, but a controversial play riled up the crowd of 21,523.

A replay showing Barnaby cross-check Mark Recchi with less than five minutes remaining was shown several times on the eight giant screens hanging over the ice.

The NHL forbids teams from repeatedly showing controversial plays on replay and NHL vice president Brian Burke, who was at the game, said Montreal could be fined the next time it violates league policy.

Referee Mark Faucette called coincidental minors on the play and was roundly booed.

``That’s the beauty of having a big fancy thing like that,″ Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. ``You get to show the visiting team’s things and not your own.″

As for the injuries, defensemen Rory Fitzpatrick and Robert Dirk will suit up for Wednesday night’s game against Hartford, pending a trade.

It will be the third game at the new Molson Centre since the 72-year-old Forum closed last week. Montreal won the opener at the $230 million arena Saturday night against the New York Rangers.

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