BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Ottawa Senators are tough to beat under any circumstances. When the puck is rolling their way, they're almost impossible to stop.
Ray Emery stopped 28 shots and got help from some fortunate bounces as Ottawa clinched a playoff spot with a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
"I'll take the good bounces for sure," Emery said. "Luck was on our side, definitely."
The game was decided in the opening minutes of the third period when the Sabres, down 2-1, appeared to tie it after Mike Grier poked a loose puck at the side of the net behind Emery.
The shot appeared to trickle over the goal line, and referee Kevin Pollock ruled it a goal. His call was overturned when officials required five minutes to review the play. Video replays showed the puck never completely crossed the line before Ottawa's Brian Pothier fished it out.
Mike Eaves scored 5 minutes later, snapping a shot from the slot over Ryan Miller's left shoulder, to clinch the Senators' fourth straight victory. Ottawa is 12-1-1 in its last 14 games.
"Things are going well, you know, and confidence is a big thing," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said.
As for the fortunate bounces, he added, "You make your own luck, I think."
Alfredsson and Antoine Vermette, with goals two minutes apart in the first period, also scored for Ottawa, which moved 27 points ahead of ninth-place Montreal, which has 13 games remaining. The Senators won despite missing four regulars, including defensemen Zdeno Chara (hand) and Anton Volchenkov (head), both hurt in a 5-2 win against Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Daniel Briere scored the lone goal for Buffalo, which has lost four straight, matching the team's longest losing streak this season. The Sabres have been outscored 16-6 during their skid.
They also fell nine points behind Ottawa in the Northeast Division standings, and dropped to 1-5 against the Senators this season.
This loss might have been the toughest to take.
"I thought it went in," Grier said of his shot, noting NHL officials watching the game in Toronto eventually made the final ruling. "Toronto called and said, `The whole thing didn't go over.' There's nothing I can do about it."
That wasn't the only bounce that went against the Sabres.
Midway through the second period, Buffalo's J.P. Dumont deflected Brian Campbell's point shot only to have the puck hit off the left post, roll along the length of the crease and bounce out off the other post.
Emery said he knew the puck got behind him, but was relieved when he heard the familiar pings of the posts.
"You get excited," he said. "You work for the bounces you get."
Emery was sharp in preserving the victory - his 11th this month since taking over the starting duties in place of Dominik Hasek, who continues to nurse a groin injury suffered during the Turin Olympics.
Emery's best stop came midway through the third period when he kicked out his left pad to foil Briere, who was set up on the doorstep.
"We have to continue to grind away," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "The energy level of our team isn't great. We're mucking through it."
The Sabres are in the midst of playing 17 games this month and travel to play Boston on Saturday.
Notes: The three goals gave Ottawa 274 this season, matching a franchise record set in 2000-01. ... Sabres D Jay McKee broke his nose in several places after being struck across by Bryan Smolinski's shot midway through the first period. He received one stitch and wore a visor when returning to play at the start of the second period. ... Senators D Filip Novak, called up from AHL Binghamton on Thursday, made his NHL debut.
Other games on March 24, 2006