PHILADELPHIA -- Even though they were down two goals on the road and playing the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres never really felt like they were out of their game Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
During the final 40 minutes they proved right to have that confidence level as they skated away with a hard-fought 5-3 victory at Wells Fargo Center.
Jason Pominville scored to break a 3-3 tie in the third period and the Sabres held on for a victory that gave them 70 points, one behind eighth-place Carolina, who was idle.
The winning play came on a beautiful cross-ice pass by Thomas Vanek that Pominville, who had a step on a backchecking Scott Hartnell, tipped past Sergei Bobrovsky for his 16th of the season at 6:37 of the final period.
"Jason and I always talk about that play," said Vanek, who had a pair of assists. "I come on the left side, I'm going to cut a little bit to the middle, let him drive, try to feed him and we executed well."
Brad Boyes also had a pair of assists for the Sabres, while Drew Stafford, Tyler Ennis, Andrej Sekera and Nathan Gerbe all had goals.
Kris Versteeg, James van Riemsdyk and Kimmo Timonen scored for the Flyers, who lost their third straight game. It's the first time the Flyers have lost three straight in regulation since Oct. 14-21. They also went winless in three straight (0-1-2) from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1.
The Flyers head to Madison Square Garden for Sunday's NHL on NBC Game of the Week (12:30 p.m. ET) with just a two-point lead on the Boston Bruins atop the Eastern Conference and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Atlantic Division. The Pens beat the Bruins in overtime on Saturday night.
"We're playing teams that are battling for their lives, and they are going to be desperate and play with a lot of determination and desire, and we have to match that if we want to win hockey games," said Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger.
Added Flyers coach Peter Laviolette: "There won't be an easy game for the rest of the year. No matter who you're playing it won't be easy. Every game means something now."
This one certainly meant a lot to the Sabres. Saturday was the third stop on their franchise-record seven-game road trip.
"If you're going to gain some ground and get in the picture, we're going to have to play well," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I thought the last 40 minutes our compete level was a little bit better than the Flyers."
Philadelphia led 2-0 after one period on goals by Versteeg and van Riemsdyk.
Versteeg scored for the third time in two games off a great backhand pass by Matt Carle. Mike Richards one-touched a pass that was behind a pinching Carle on the right post, but the Flyers defenseman kicked the puck to his backhand and flung it through the slot to Versteeg on the far side.
He had a nearly empty net to shoot into as Sabres goalie Ryan Miller had over-committed to Carle. The goal snapped an 0-for-14 power-play drought for Philadelphia.
Van Riemsdyk doubled the lead on a great individual effort. He stripped the puck from the Sabres' Tim Connolly, bulled his way past Shaone Morrisson, stickhandled around a sliding Jordan Leopold and roofed a backhand over Miller's right shoulder for his 16th of the season.
Rather than sulk, the Sabres re-committed to playing better hockey for the final 40 minutes.
"We knew we had to be better," said Pominville. "We weren't good enough in the first. I thought in the second we started skating and competing a little bit better."
The Sabres took control in the second by scoring three times in 3:40.
As a Philadelphia power play was ending, Vanek made a nice one-touch pass from behind the Philadelphia net to Stafford, who shed Versteeg and beat Bobrovsky for his team-best 25th goal of the season.
They tied the game less than two minutes later on an odd goal by Ennis. The Sabres' rookie fired a shot on net from the left corner that appeared to hit off Bobrovsky and might have hit Patrick Kaleta as he was knocked into the net by the Flyers' Sean O'Donnell.
Sekera put the Sabres ahead when he grabbed a Boyes rebound, pulled it wide and shot one that Bobrovsky stretched to stop. The puck went behind the net and Sekera followed it, came out the other side and scored on a stuff inside the left post.
Philadelphia tied the game on Timonen's shorthanded goal at 13:23 of the second. Timonen led Braydon Coburn on a 2-on-1 rush with Miller stopping Timonen's shot from the slot. The rebound went behind the net and got kicked along the right wall to Vanek, but Coburn took the puck away from him and found Timonen alone in front of Miller.
The goal was Timonen's 100th NHL score and first in 13 games. It also was the Flyers' League-best 11th shorthanded goal.
After Pominville put the Sabres ahead, Gerbe added an empty-net goal with 64 seconds remaining for the final score.
"I think it's a good sign moving forward," said Miller, who stopped 33 of 36 shots. "It's been an evolution as the season's gone on, guys gaining confidence as the season goes on. I think you get the sense that they feel like they know what they want to do on the ice each night. It's a good sign, something where you have to have those kinds of wins. Even just to get it to overtime and just grind it out, that's important. The two points for us is huge."
The Flyers have been outscored 10-2 in the third periods of their last five games -- two of which they led entering the third, two they were tied -- and are just 1-3-1 in that span. However, Laviolette is confident his team will bounce back.
"There's a belief in (the locker room) that we're going to be successful every night," Laviolette said. "We'll continue down that road to work and to push to win hockey games. Some nights it's not going to be as easy and some nights you won't get the breaks and the bounces. There are some things we could have done better tonight. And we'll continue to look at it and continue to work at it.
"This team got to this point by a certain recipe, a certain identity in how they play the game. We've got to continue to work at that and get back to that and get to that, and wins will start to come our way. I promise you this -- wins will start to come our way."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK