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Sabres lock up playoff berth, blitz Lightning

Sunday, 03.28.2010 / 12:16 AM / Roundup

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Sabres lock up playoff berth, blitz Lightning
Buffalo returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 with a 7-1 rout of Tampa Bay. Patrick Lalime stopped 22 shots for his 200th NHL victory
The Buffalo Sabres and Patrick Lalime both could boast significant achievements Saturday night.

The Sabres locked up their first playoff berth in three years by blowing out the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-1 before a sellout crowd at HSBC Arena. Lalime, who got the start as coach Lindy Ruff gave Ryan Miller a night off, stopped 22 shots for his 200th NHL victory.

"To get in with the game we played was real good," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "I might even smile."

Lalime, who was 0-4-1 with a no-decision since posting win No. 199 against Pittsburgh on Dec. 29, became the 66th NHL goalie to reach the milestone.

"It's pretty nice to get there," Lalime said. "It was a hard one to get. It just means I'm old, probably."

The Sabres are back in the postseason for the first time since 2007.

"The last year we've been talking about doing that," Lalime said. "Now that we're in the playoffs, we want to set the bar high and finish strong."

Buffalo biggest offensive night since a 7-2 win at Phoenix on Jan. 18 was led by Derek Roy, who recorded his fourth NHL hat trick. Paul Gaustad, Jochen Hecht, Jason Pominville, and Adam Mair also scored for the Sabres, who have won five of six.

"It was a great night," said Roy, who scored two power-play goals. "We scored two goals right off the bat and could have had a couple more."

Tampa Bay fell behind at 2:24 when Gaustad redirected Craig Rivet's slap shot while standing in front of goalie Antero Niittymaki. Buffalo then broke the game open with a pair of power-play goals during a five-minute advantage after Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier was assessed a major penalty and an automatic ejection for spearing Tim Kennedy. Roy and Hecht scored 50 seconds apart to put the Sabres up 3-0.

"We didn't come ready to play," Lightning forward Martin St. Louis said. "From the get-go, you could tell we were just trying to feel our way instead of initiating and dictating. Next thing you know it's 3-0 and they're a tough team to come back against."

Pominville, Roy and Mair scored in the second for a 6-0 lead before Steve Downie beat Lalime with 43 seconds left in the period. Roy added another power-play goal early in the third period to complete his hat trick.

"It's an embarrassing loss," said Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet, whose team has lost six of eight and is eight points behind the postseason cutoff in the East. "We're in high critical games. You've got to backcheck like it's the last shift of the season. Our defense has to box out like it's the last game of the season. It's embarrassing some guys packed it in."

Thrashers 4, Hurricanes 0 | HIGHLIGHTS

Atlanta moved within two points of eighth place in the East as Johan Hedberg stopped 34 shots and Rich Peverley and Evgeny Artyukhin scored 57 seconds apart in the second period.

"That's so out of our control," Atlanta coach John Anderson said of the standings. "But we have to do our best when we have it in our control. We went about business tonight really well."

Niclas Bergfors added a goal late in the second and Jim Slater scored in the third for the Thrashers, who snapped a two-game skid.

"We stayed with it the whole way," Hedberg said after the Thrashers completed a three-game season sweep at the RBC Center. "We didn't have any lapses, which is key. We didn't beat ourselves."

Atlanta had lost consecutive games to Boston and Toronto coming into Raleigh, but Hedberg said his team played with more emotion this time.

"We didn't turn the pucks over in the same way," he said. "We did the things we were supposed to do. Even though you get down on yourself, when you lose a big game like we did against Boston or Toronto and we think we might be out of it, you look at the standings and realize you're not. It's a funny business."

Manny Legace finished with 39 saves on an otherwise forgettable night for the Hurricanes, who inched closer to elimination.

"They came out more desperate than we did," Carolina captain Eric Staal said.

Bruins 5, Flames 0 | HIGHLIGHTS

David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi all had a goal and an assist and Tim Thomas stopped 31 shots for his fifth shutout of the season as the Bruins extended Calgary's slump and strengthened their own hold on a playoff berth in the East.

Dennis Seidenberg also scored for Boston, which moved into seventh place in the East. Boston and Philadelphia both have 80 points, but the Bruins hold the first tiebreaker by virtue of having played one fewer game than the Flyers. Both are two points ahead of the ninth-place Thrashers.

"I thought we played a real solid game tonight, not necessarily because of the score but more the way we played the 60 minutes and special teams, both penalty kill and power play, were really good today for us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "The power play really gave us a good cushion there and then our 5-on-5 play was pretty good as well."

Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was chased 5:51 into the third after Recchi scored his 17th goal of the season and the 562nd of his career, second among active players only to Teemu Selanne.

Calgary saw its postseason hopes continue to dwindle, remaining six points behind Colorado, which is eighth in the Western Conference. The Flames complete a three-game Eastern trip Sunday afternoon in Washington.

"We have to run the table now," captain Jarome Iginla said. "Other teams have done it in the past, run the table near the end. We need to put together five or six wins. It's literally all Game 7s for us now."

Senators 3, Panthers 2 | HIGHLIGHTS

Ottawa's slump is officially over. The Senators won their fourth in a row as Daniel Alfredsson scored what proved to be the winning goal early in the third period.

The Senators are fifth in the East and are all but assured of returning to the playoffs after missing the postseason in 2008-09, and Alfredsson is optimistic about their chances.

"We can match up against anybody I think," Ottawa's captain said. "We know how close it is and how close a (playoff) series will be, but we feel that if we can continue here all the way to the playoffs, we can do some damage."

Brian Elliott made 20 saves, and Matt Cullen and Peter Regin scored in the second period for the Senators. Rookie defenseman Erik Karlsson had three assists.

Stephen Weiss scored in the second period and Steven Reinprecht connected in the third for the Panthers, who got a 22-save performance from Tomas Vokoun.

Alfredsson fired a shot from just inside the blue line early in the third period to give Ottawa a 3-1 lead. He is only four games played away from 1,000 in the NHL and has scored at least 20 goals in 10 straight seasons.

Florida cut the margin to one goal with 6:46 left in regulation when Reinprecht scored during a 5-on-3 power play. The Panthers had a chance to tie when they received another two-man advantage, but couldn't beat Elliott again -- he made an excellent glove save on Nathan Horton to preserve the lead.

Florida coach Peter DeBoer wasn't pleased with his team's effort.

"We're not getting anything," he said. "Whether it's a goalie pitching a shutout or a defenseman getting on the board or a forward scoring two or three, we're not finding a difference maker on any given night."

Islanders 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) | HIGHLIGHTS

New York won for the first time ever at Nationwide Arena when Josh Bailey scored 2:58 into overtime.

The Islanders were 0-4-1-1 lifetime in Columbus and had seen a 2-0 lead turn into a 3-2 deficit when Rick Nash and Grant Clitsome scored 45 seconds apart early in the third period for the Jackets. But Jon Sim jammed the puck past Mathieu Garon midway through the period to force OT, and Bailey won it by rifling John Tavares' pass behind Garon to finish a 3-on-2 break.

"It wasn't an easy game for us," said Isles coach Scott Gordon, whose defense included three players who were in the minors earlier this month -- including two called up this week. "They've got some big bodies and as you know, we are shorthanded on the back end. The guys did well."

The Isles took a quick 2-0 lead on goals 62 seconds apart by Kyle Okposo and Tim Jackman. R.J. Umberger scored a power-play goal early in the second for the Jackets.

"I don't think we came out with the tempo that we wanted," Umberger said. "We've been talking about trying to be pacesetters and I don't think, as a team, we did that in the beginning. So we got behind early."

Maple Leafs 3, Rangers 2 (OT) | HIGHLIGHTS

Nikolai Kulemin's goal 39 seconds into OT capped Toronto's comeback from a 2-0 deficit and cost the Rangers a valuable point in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

For NHL.com's complete story, click here.

Sharks 4, Canucks 2 | HIGHLIGHTS

The Sharks continued their rebound after a six-game losing streak as Patrick Marleau had a goal and three assists to beat Vancouver for their third consecutive win.

"It's good to get back to playing Sharks hockey again," Marleau said

Marleau's 42nd goal gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead at 9:29 of the second period. Joe Pavelski scored two minutes later, and Ryan Clowe added an empty-netter with 11 seconds left to make it 4-2. Dany Heatley also scored for San Jose, which has bounced back from the losing streak that dropped them out of first place in the Pacific Division.

"It was a good second period for us," coach Todd McLellan said. "We got a lot of pucks to the net and that was something that we didn’t do in the first and third (periods)."

The Sharks now have 102 points, a two-point division lead over Phoenix, and a three-point edge over Chicago in the race for the top seed in the Western playoffs. Vancouver leads the Northwest Division with 94 points, five more than Colorado.

San Jose goalie Evgeni Nabokov made 35 saves to earn his 40th win of the season, making him only the second goaltender in NHL history to win 40 or more games in three consecutive seasons.

Henrik Sedin, the NHL scoring leader, set up both Vancouver goals to push his point total to 101. He's only the fourth Canuck to reach the 100-point mark and the first since Markus Naslund in 2002-03.

"It's a milestone," he said. "It means something for sure and it's something you can look back on later. I thought I'd never reach that total, so it's real nice."

After Alex Burrows gave the Canucks an early lead, Heatley tied the game 1-1 at 3:01 of the second period when he rifled a shot from the slot past Roberto Luongo for his 39th goal of the season and 18th on the power play, triggering the three-goal burst in the second period.

"Except for that eight-minute span, I thought we played a really solid game in a really tough environment," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "We had a number of scoring chances and were pretty solid defensively. They only had three shots in the first period for 16 minutes, and we had a real strong push in the third. We didn't tie it, but played overall a pretty good game."

Sedin's twin brother, Daniel, made it 3-2 when he scored with 12:05 remaining

The Sharks played the third period without Thornton, who left the game at the end of the second period after crashing into the boards. He's listed as day-to-day.

"I hope Joe will be all right," Marleau said. "But it's a chance for other guys to step up and show what they've got."

Stars 4, Kings 1 | HIGHLIGHTS

Dallas had lost all five meetings with the Kings and was 1-for-20 on the power play -- until Saturday night, when the Stars went 4-for-7 to spoil the night for the sellout crowd at the Staples Center.

After Michal Handzus put the Kings in front 15:52 into the game with a power-play goal, the Stars connected three times with the extra man in the second period and again just 48 seconds into the third. Brenden Morrow tied the game 17 seconds into the middle period, and Brad Richards scored twice in less than five minutes.

"We had a little bit more energy that Los Angeles did tonight," said Stars coach Marc Crawford, whose team is all but assured of missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1987 and '88. "We didn't steal this one. But obviously, when your power play scores four goals, it goes a long way toward helping you win."

Steve Ott capped the power-play onslaught by beating Jonathan Quick 48 seconds into the third.

"Our special teams were no good tonight," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "Our power play was no good. Our penalty-killing was no good."

The Kings, trying to lock up their first postseason berth since 2002, have fallen to seventh in the Western Conference with a seven-point lead over Calgary and eight games remaining.

"Our goal is to play in the playoffs," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "But if we play like this, it will be short-lived."

L.A. has dropped three in a row and is 5-6-2 since the Olympic break.

"Everyone wants to go into the playoffs winning, but this is, sometimes, a part of the season," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I think we didn’t come out of the Olympic break so great, but we've played, to my count, about four pretty good games in a row leading up to this one. We're not happy about tonight, but I think the best thing for us is that we get right on the road tomorrow and we play two games right in a row. I think the best thing for us will be playing hockey immediately."

Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.


Quote of the Day

They said, 'You're going to love the city. It's smaller than Philadelphia, but you're going to love it. You're going to love the fans. Just watching the playoffs last year, the fans seemed louder there than they did anywhere. I'm really excited about that.

— Forward Scott Hartnell on his upcoming season with the Columbus Blue Jackets