Sabres Inching Closer To EC Title

Thursday, March 29th 2007, 8:09 am
By: News On 6

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ A high-scoring offense and freewheeling style got the Buffalo Sabres this far, inching them closer to clinching the Eastern Conference title.

Goaltender Ryan Miller understands the Sabres need patience and attention to defensive detail if they plan to succeed in the playoffs.

That's what pleased Miller after the Sabres pulled out a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night in a game between the conference's top two teams.

``We got the rewards for playing the right way,'' said Miller, who stopped 28 shots. ``The Devils play a very patient system that benefits them come playoff time. And we feel if we can play against that, we can play against a lot of teams in this league.''

Rebounding from a sloppy 4-1 loss at Toronto last weekend, the Sabres extended their lead atop the East standings to seven points over the Devils, as well as idle Pittsburgh and Ottawa. With six games left, Buffalo also moved into a tie for first place in the NHL with Nashville.

The Devils suddenly have other worries than catching Buffalo. Ending a five-game road swing, New Jersey has lost five of eight and sits tied with the hard-charging Penguins _ who have won eight of 10 _ atop the Atlantic Division.

``They're not losing any games. They're just getting points left and right,'' Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said of the Penguins. ``So that's what we're aiming, to win every game and getting on a roll before the playoffs start.''

In other NHL games, it was: Florida 3, Atlanta 2 in a shootout; Philadelphia 5, Carolina 1; and Anaheim 3, Chicago 1.

The Sabres never trailed and took control with a three-goal third period to break open a 1-1 tie. Jochen Hecht and Ales Kotalik both scored on one-timers off the transition, while rookie Daniel Paille's go-ahead goal came off a rebound.

``It was a good test, because you had to stay patient,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. ``I thought we cleaned up a lot of the careless errors and the careless turnovers.''

Hecht finished with two goals. Kotalik was back after missing 16 games with a knee injury, while Paille returned after missing 15 games with a broken finger.

Co-captain Daniel Briere had an assist to give him 90 points (31 goals, 59 assists), making him the first Buffalo player to reach that plateau since Pat LaFontaine had 91 points in 1995-96.

Scott Gomez and Zach Parise had a goal and assist each, and Paul Martin also scored for New Jersey.

Brodeur stopped 19 shots and remained three wins short of matching Bernie Parent's single-season record for victories. Brodeur has 44 wins, tied with Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, for the NHL lead.

It was an uncharacteristic loss for the Devils, who dropped to 11-5-4 when a game is tied after two periods.

``It usually doesn't happen to us like that, but give Buffalo credit,'' Gomez said. ``They're probably the best team in the East right now. They stuck with it.''

Panthers 3, Thrashers 2, SO

At Sunrise, Fla., Jozef Stumpel scored the tying goal in the third period and notched the winner in the shootout for Florida.

Bryan Allen also scored for the Panthers, who are hanging on to slim playoff hopes. Florida is in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and trails eighth-place Montreal by six points with five games left.

Slava Kozlov scored twice for Atlanta, which increased its Southeast Division lead to three points over idle Tampa Bay.

Flyers 5, Hurricanes 1

Martin Biron stopped a penalty shot among his 23 saves and Philadelphia stymied visiting Carolina's playoff push.

The Hurricanes could have moved into a playoff position in the Eastern Conference with a win, but instead the defending Stanley Cup champions are still on the outside of the cutoff line after their second loss in two nights.

The NHL-worst Flyers got two goals from Jeff Carter, and one each from Derian Hatcher, Mike Knuble and Braydon Coburn for only their ninth home win this season.

Ray Whitney scored his 30th goal for the Hurricanes, who trail Montreal and Tampa Bay by two points for the final playoff spot.

Ducks 3, Blackhawks 1

Rookie Dustin Penner scored two goals and Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves to lead visiting Anaheim.

Corey Perry set up both of Penner's goals as first-place Anaheim reached 102 points, four ahead of both Dallas and San Jose in the Pacific Division.

George Parros also scored for the Ducks, who won for the second time in five games after going 8-0-2 in their previous 10.

Radim Vrbata scored for visiting Chicago, which lost its sixth straight.