For the first time in 96 days, the Buffalo Sabres will go to bed among the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
The surging Sabres moved into the final playoff spot in the East by beating the Minnesota Wild 3-1 on Saturday night before a packed house at First Niagara Center. The win gives Buffalo 84 points, two more than Washington. Ironically, the Sabres will be rooting for the Wild on Sunday -- Minnesota continues its road trip with a game against the Capitals.
The Sabres have won four in a row. They are 7-1-2 in their last 10, and 18-5-5 in their last 28 games since a 4-2 loss in St. Louis on Jan. 21. They are 6-0-2 since their last regulation loss, a 3-1 setback in Boston on March 8.
Rookie Marcus Foligno, whose scoring has given the Sabres a big offensive boost, broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play goal 1:45 into the third period.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff knows there's still plenty of work left in his team's last six games, starting with a showdown against the Caps on Tuesday in Washington.
"We've got an opportunity to take a breather, get the guys some rest," Ruff said. "(Sunday) will be a day off. I told them to get their minds off hockey and get some rest. Our next one coming up is a big one. But we'll deal with that come Monday. We play one game in the next four days, and should be an opportunity to freshen up for this last little stretch drive."
Minnesota led 1-0 after the first period on a goal by Steven Kampfer, but Buffalo tied it 1:12 into the second on some hard work in the corner by rookie Corey Tropp, who hit Minnesota defenseman Nate Prosser to spring the puck loose to Cody Hodgson.
Josh Harding stopped Hodgson's shot, but Thomas Vanek fought through the crowd in front to backhand the puck into the right side of the net.
"Our goal going into the second period was to get pucks behind them, get in there and get a little bit dirty and finish your checks," Tropp said. "That's how we were able to generate that first goal, and momentum kind of carried from there."
Foligno put the Sabres ahead when he set up in front of Harding and had Tyler Myers shot hit his shin pad and bounce into the net. It was Foligno's sixth goal of the season and 10th point in eight games since being recalled from Rochester on March 10.
Foligno is just the sixth active player to score six or more goals in his first nine NHL games -- he joins Teemu Selanne (8), Evgeni Malkin (8), Devin Setoguchi (7), Ilya Kovalchuk (6) and Alex Ovechkin (6).
"It's huge to contribute. I didn't have the best game, but it was good to get that goal," Foligno said. "Just the way me, Stafford and Ennis have been playing, I don't think I created enough for those guys tonight. But games like that are gonna happen, and it was good to rebound and get that one in the third."
Hodgson capped off the scoring with his 19th of the season into an empty net as time expired.
Ryan Miller stopped 24 shots, including 15 of 16 in the first period, for his 29th win of the season. He is 13-1-4 over his last 18 games; and 18-3-5 since January 24. Miller has started eight in a row, and 18 of Buffalo's last 19 games.
The Wild (31-33-10) fell to 3-8-1 in their past 12 games and are 11-26-7 since owning the NHL's best record on Dec. 10.
The Wild's run of injuries continued. Initial tests showed that center Matt Cullen broke a finger on his right hand after being struck by a shot midway through the third period.
"I'm so sick of talking about injuries to be honest with you, it's ridiculous," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We've still got to play hockey games. It stinks to lose Matt Cullen. It stinks we have guys out of the lineup, but we've got a job to do. Let's make sure we do it."
Material from team media was used in this report