With a couple of their big guns idled by injuries, the Buffalo Sabres got a big night from three of their rookies.
Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe, both recalled from the minors this week, joined rookie Tim Kennedy as goal-scorers to lead the Sabres to a 6-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.
Center Tim Connolly (foot) missed his third game, while left wing Thomas Vanek (lower body) missed his game. For one night, neither was missed.
"It's a big step when you have that much depth," said veteran forward Jason Pominville, who scored his 24th of the season. "Guys have stepped in at different moments and played well, and I think the two guys who got called up brought energy to the team."
The Sabres also got goals from checking center Adam Mair and defenseman Henrik Tallinder, while forward Raffi Torres had three assists in his return after missing six games with a hand injury.
"You never want to be a one-dimensional team," Mair said. "It's something that I think builds confidence throughout the room."
Ryan Miller made 13 saves for his 39th victory -- one short of his career high - to help the Sabres inch closer to clinching the Northeast Division title.
Buffalo (43-23-10) won for the seventh time in eight games to move seven points ahead of second-place Ottawa in the division. The win also moved the Sabres into second place in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of Pittsburgh after the Penguins lost 2-0 to Tampa Bay.
Michael Frolik and Jeff Taffe scored for Florida, which is 0-3-1 in its last six and all but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Taffe scored less than two minutes into the game, but the Sabres scored the next four goals and outshot Florida 20-2 in the second period.
"It was pretty ugly," said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer, who was particularly displeased with his team's performance in the second period.
"When you're standing behind the bench for that, you want to be anywhere else. Unfortunately, this is the bed we've made and we have to lie in it."
Sabres defenseman and NHL rookie of the year candidate Tyler Myers earned his rookie-leading 35th assist. That moved him one ahead of Gilbert Perreault among Buffalo rookies and into a tie with Derek Plante for fifth on the team list.
Blackhawks 4, Wild 0 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville picked the right goaltender.
Quenneville went with rookie Antti Niemi for the second time in two nights and was rewarded with a 21-save effort as the Hawks blanked the lethargic Wild at the Xcel Energy Center to snap a three-game losing streak.
Niemi, who struggled in Tuesday's 4-2 loss at St. Louis, was at his best when he made four saves during a 91-second 5-on-3 power play for Minnesota late in the second period. He now has seven shutouts and a 21-7-3 record.
"It's big, it was a nice response," Quenneville said. "It was nice to show him some confidence as well and he responded with the game we were looking for."
Ben Eager had a goal and two assists for a career-high three points in his second multipoint game this season. Tomas Kopecky rounded out the three-goal night from Chicago's fourth line with a pair of goals, and Jonathan Toews added the Blackhawks' final tally late in the third period as Chicago reached the 100-point mark in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1970-71 and '71-72.
"It's nice to get that one out of our way and move on here," defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "Now we've got to continue to work hard and do the little things."
Niklas Backstrom finished with 31 saves for the Wild, shut out at home for the first time since a 2-0 loss to Nashville on Feb. 6, 2009. It marked just the third loss for Minnesota in its last 14 home games against Chicago.
The loss pushed the Wild to the brink of mathematical elimination from playoff contention. One Colorado victory in its final six games will make it official.
"It just wasn't good enough," Minnesota center Kyle Brodziak said. "It wasn't what we expect out of each other. It wasn't good enough all the way through. The only way to describe it was embarrassing. We got outworked and outcompeted in every aspect of the game."
The crowd booed the home team numerous times as the Wild finished with 21 shots or less for the ninth time in their last 13 games -- a stat that's driving coach Todd Richards to distraction.
"It is a refusal to shoot the puck," Richards said. "We talk about that every meeting. We talk about it in between periods. You have to give some credit to the defending team. Some teams do a great job of denying certain shots but there are opportunities where we're just refusing to shoot."
Kopecky opened the scoring with 1:40 left first period and made it 3-0 at 5:55 of the third. It was Kopecky's second multigoal game in his last six contests; he has five goals in that stretch after going 21 games without putting the puck in the net.
"Obviously when you score two goals or when you have a good game your confidence is pumped up," Kopecky said. "But really important today was a win because we needed it so bad."
Eager turned a Minnesota turnover in the neutral zone into the game's second goal when he corralled his own rebound to beat Backstrom glove side at 9:51 of the second period.
Minnesota managed just six shots until picking up four during the 5-on-3 advantage in the second. Niemi turned away all four chances, including an impressive sliding save on Mikko Koivu's point-blank offering with his right pad at 17:09.
"That save on Koivu was unbelievable," Quenneville said. "They had the puck around the net and he made some big saves."
Niemi is tied for second in the NHL with his seven shutouts, the most by a Chicago goalie since Jocelyn Thibault had eight in 2002-03.
"Its not like I'm focused on getting shutouts," Niemi said. "But its really unbelievable and tells how well our team has played."
Stars 5, Sharks 1 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS
In a frustrating season for the Stars, the one thing they've been able to do well is beat San Jose. Dallas made it four wins in six tries against the Sharks this season as Steve Ott had his first NHL hat trick.
Ott scored a shorthanded goal 1:45 into the game, then beat Evgeni Nabokov at 18:19 of the second period with the teams at full strength -- and again 68 seconds later during a power play, triggering a shower of baseball caps at the American Airlines Center.
"It's obviously a fun night," said Ott, who is known more as an agitator than a scorer. "It definitely puts a big smile on my face, but I think I was more proud of the sacrifice of my teammates."
The Stars kept their slim playoff hopes alive.
"We've got a lot of pride in this dressing room," Ott said after the Stars whipped San Jose in Dallas for the second time this month. "We might not make the playoffs, or it's pretty unrealistic right now, but to finish with character and finish with pride, I think means more than anything."
Loui Eriksson put Dallas ahead to stay midway through the first period, and Brian Sutherby scored in the second for the Stars, who finished 4-2-0 against the conference-leading Sharks.
"We've played very well against one of the top teams in the League," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "We've won a lot of different ways. I thought tonight we played a very, very strong game. We killed penalties well, we had a really good goaltending performance and I thought physically we were very assertive."
Logan Couture had a first-period power-play goal for the Sharks, who played without No. 1 center Joe Thornton for the second game in a row. Thornton sat with a lower-body injury sustained on Saturday.
"Anytime you lose a good player like that, it hurts, but it opens the door for other players," defenseman Dan Boyle said.
Ott opened the scoring when he scored on a shorthanded breakaway after a San Jose turnover. But Couture tied it during the same power play by deflecting Boyle's shot past Turco.
Eriksson put Dallas ahead to stay at 10:20 when he redirected Brad Richards' centering pass into a wide-open net.
Dallas then blew the game open late in the second period. Sutherby knocked a rebound past Nabokov at 12:16, then set up Ott for his second of the night just over six minutes later. Ott then completed his hat trick, giving him 7 goals in his last nine games and 19 for the season.
"We gave up 2-on-1s, 3-on-2s," Boyle said. "Defensively we weren't on the same page. We were poor tonight."
Material from wire services was used in this report.