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New top line pacing Sabres' surge toward playoffs

Wednesday, 03.28.2012 / 12:47 PM / Features

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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New top line pacing Sabres' surge toward playoffs
Buffalo's top line of Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno have combined for 17 goals and 21 assists since being put together on March 10.
WASHINGTON -- Lindy Ruff had a feeling that Tyler Ennis' speed and creativity, Drew Stafford's shooting ability, and Marcus Foligno's size would blend well together on one line.

"We were hoping they could provide some offense," Buffalo's veteran coach said.

Ruff never imagined 38 points in nine games, but that's what the streaking Sabres have gotten from their new top line.

Ennis, Stafford and Foligno have combined for 17 goals and 21 assists since they were put together on March 10 at Ottawa. The Sabres are 7-0-2 since.

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"We put some good size on one side, a real creative guy in the middle, and obviously we've got a good shooter on the right side," Ruff said. "We were hoping that they could provide some offense. I don't think anybody thought we'd get as much as we've gotten, but it was like instant chemistry. In a short period of time they've established themselves as a top line once they cross the blue line."

They were at it again Tuesday at Verizon Center in a 5-1 crucial win against the Capitals.

Stafford scored two more goals, giving him six goals and 14 points over the nine-game stretch. Ennis assisted on both and he now has nine assists and 14 points in the last nine games. Foligno, the 20-year-old rookie on an emergency call-up, was held off the scoresheet, but he used his size to lay four hits (that he was credited for) and block two shots.

Foligno has six goals and 10 points in the nine games.

"It's because we have a combination of everything," Foligno, the 6-2, 215-pound son of a coach, told NHL.com. "We have size, speed, and hands. Ennis is a waterbug out there so when he gets space and time out there he's dangerous. And, he's really good at the center position. Stafford is really a strong skater. He can fly up the wall and he has a heavy shot. He hits as well. For me, I'm just a big guy that tries to get to the net so those guys can play that time game, where they can buy some time and I can park myself in front. It's been working so far. It's been fun."

It wasn't for the Capitals.

Ennis and Stafford connected on a 2-on-1 in the third period. It was one of several odd-man opportunities the line created, almost to the bewilderment of their own teammates.

"I don't understand how they get so many 2-on-1s," Sabres captain Jason Pominville said with a smile. "Hopefully they get more of those, because they've been doing a great job of putting them away."

Drew Stafford
Right Wing - BUF
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 28 | PTS: 47
SOG: 212 | +/-: 8
The chemistry has come at the most opportune time for the Sabres, who have won five straight to move into sole possession of eighth-place in the Eastern Conference with five games to play. Buffalo was 15th back on Feb. 19, but has gone 14-2-3 ever since.

Stafford has six goals in the last seven games after scoring only 13 in his first 67. Ennis had just 15 points in 34 games before going on this nine-game splurge. He's now up to 29 points in 43 games.

Foligno wasn't even part of the Sabres' plans before the trade deadline, but he moved up on their depth chart when general manager Darcy Regier shipped Zack Kassian to Vancouver for Cody Hodgson.

Foligno, who took over as the top power-forward prospect, was called up on an emergency basis earlier this month when Thomas Vanek was hurt. Thanks to injuries for Nathan Gerbe and Matt Ellis, Foligno didn't have to be sent back to Rochester of the American Hockey League when Vanek recovered. He's probably not going back to Rochester any time soon, if ever again.

"It's the right mix," Stafford told NHL.com. "All three of us, the biggest thing is we like making plays, but above all else you need to put the work in. You need to have the right habits and you get rewarded for it. We happen to be getting rewarded now, at a huge time of the year."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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