Don't look now, but the Buffalo Sabres are stalking the rest of the Eastern Conference.
Following a blowout win over Boston on Wednesday, the Sabres proved they could win the close ones as well by erasing a two-goal, third-period deficit to beat Dallas 3-2 in a shootout for their third straight victory.
With the win, Buffalo (24-24-6) leapfrogged Montreal and Tampa Bay for sole possession of 11th place, eight points shy of the final playoff slot. Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy scored for Buffalo and Ryan Miller stopped 24 shots.
"We played well, played sound," said Nathan Gerbe, who converted the shootout winner. "We didn't have our legs right away, but Millsy came up big and kept us in the game. It shows we can play, it shows what kind of team we are and we're ready to make a big run and make the playoffs."
Dallas (28-23-3) moved within a point of eighth-place Phoenix in the West but failed in its bid to win a regular-season game in Buffalo for the first time since Oct. 7, 1997. Dallas dropped to 0-5-2 in its past trips to Buffalo.
When Tomas Vincour gave Dallas a 2-0 lead at 4:17 of the third period, some Sabre faithful headed for the First Niagara Center exits. Before they reached the door, Buffalo struck back on the power play.
Vanek, playing his first game since missing three with an upper-body injury, scored his team-leading 20th goal by deflecting Jason Pominville's right-circle blast past Kari Lehtonen at 5:07.
"I said this morning that I think (Vanek) can be instant help with the power play," said coach Lindy Ruff. "And it seems when he does come back he gets on the scoresheet."
From there, Buffalo peppered Lehtonen, outshooting the Stars 13-3 in the final period. Until the final minute, however, it looked as if Lehtonen would shut the door. But with 39 seconds left, Tyler Myers' straightaway blast from just inside the blue line bounced off Drew Stafford to Lehtonen's right, where Roy was waiting to swat the puck home for his 11th of the season.
Buffalo continued to test Lehtonen in overtime, and he made perhaps his best save with just seconds to go in the extra period. A turnover in the Dallas zone gave the puck to Christian Ehrhoff, who skated in on a two-on-zero with Vanek trailing. Ehrhoff slipped the puck back through his legs, but Lehtonen used an outstretched right blocker to deflect Vanek's one-timer.
"He's been a big part of the team all year," said winger Michael Ryder. "When we look at him to make the big saves, he makes them. He's a big, agile goaltender and he's a big reason we're in the playoff hunt."
In the shootout, Buffalo's Brad Boyes and Dallas' Jamie Benn traded goals before Gerbe sealed it when he whipped a backhand off the left post and in.
"I think going for my last shootout attempt, I went low blocker," Gerbe said. "So I wanted to switch it up from last time since goalies check the tapes and see what works and what doesn't work."
The Stars got three of four points on a two-night swing through Columbus and Buffalo -- but felt they should have had all four.
"I thought we did a pretty good job of managing our game, but they got a good bounce," said Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan, referring to Roy's game-tying goal.
The Stars started well and grabbed the lead on Ryder's 20th of the season at 17:53 of the first. With Cody McCormick off for roughing, Ryder redirected an Alex Goligoski point shot past Miller.
Vincour made it 2-0 off a nice feed from Benn, but it was all Sabres from that point forward.
Buffalo puts its winning streak on the line Saturday at home to Tampa Bay, one of many Eastern teams looking for a late surge.
"To go out and win it in a shootout still was important," said Ruff, who again spent the game in the press box after breaking three ribs at practice earlier in the week. "That's an important point for us with the games we have in hand."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
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