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Buffalo Sabres 1, Atlanta Thrashers 4 FINAL

NHL.com @NHL
ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Thrashers are thinking playoffs again.

After going through a nine-game winless streak, the Thrashers won their second in a row Tuesday night when Slava Kozlov scored twice and Pasi Nurminen made 24 saves in a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

"We're talking about playoff races," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "That's great for the fans, and great for us. We're going to grow no matter how it turns out."

The Thrashers moved within two points of Tampa Bay for the Southeast Division lead and one point of the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Buffalo lost its third straight.

Nurminen didn't have much chance on Buffalo's goal, scored by J.P. Dumont after he was left alone in front early in the second period.

Otherwise, the Atlanta goalie was flawless in his second straight start, reclaiming the No. 1 job after a slump prompted Hartley to use Byron Dafoe in three straight games.

"Pasi made some big saves," the coach said. "That's the type of goaltending that's going to get us to the playoffs. That's the good ol' Pasi we saw at the beginning of the season."

Nurminen made 29 saves in a 5-2 victory at Carolina on Sunday, winning his first game since Dec. 26.

"That's pretty painful, so this feels good," said Nurminen, admitting his confidence wavered during his drought. "You know goalies are head cases sometimes. It probably happens to everyone."

Kozlov erased the Sabres' 1-0 lead at 13:31 of the second period, capitalizing on two slick passes to tip in an easy power-play goal.

He finished off Buffalo with 3:28 remaining, knocking in a rebound with goalie Mika Noronen sprawled face down on the ice.

"We're in a tough race right now. We need the points," Kozlov said. "It's a big win for us and we need to stay on the winning track."

Patrik Stefan scored the tiebreaking goal with two minutes left in the second. He stole an attempted pass by Ales Kotalik just inside the Sabres blue line and took off on a breakaway. The Atlanta center deked Noronen off his feet and slid the puck under his body.

J.P. Vigier, playing with a fractured cheekbone after taking an inadvertent high stick, gave the Thrashers some breathing room early in the third with a fluke goal.

From behind the net, Vigier wound up with his 10th goal when he flipped the puck out front and it deflected off the right skate of Jochen Hecht, past a helpless Noronen.

"Halfway into the game, we had it going for us," Noronen said. "But we started to take penalties, and suddenly things turned around."

Indeed, the Sabres were short-handed much of the final two periods. The Thrashers had seven power plays in that span, converting only one but preventing Buffalo from mounting much offense.

Buffalo also took a crucial penalty in the first period, wiping out a goal by Hecht. Daniel Briere collided with Nurminen in front of the net and wound up on top of the goalie, just before Hecht fired the puck into an open net.

The goal was quickly waved off and Briere was whistled for interference.

"We were controlling the game and tried to battle through that, but it caught up to us," coach Lindy Ruff said. "I'd like to see the same calls called on them that were called on us."

Kozlov scored his first goal after Ilya Kovalchuk sped into the Buffalo zone, pulled up and passed across to Randy Robitaille at the opposite point. He spotted Kozlov breaking toward the net, sending in a pass that made for an easy tip-in at the side of the goal.

Kozlov scored his 19th goal late in the third. Daniel Tjarnqvist's long shot bounced off Noronen's chest and Kozlov swooped in, flipping the rebound over the fallen goalie.

Game notes
Vigier scored for the first time in 11 games. ... The Thrashers improved to 6-2-1 against the Sabres at Philips Arena and 10-7-1 overall. ... Kovalchuk has three goals and four assists in three games. ... Atlanta improved to 14-0-1 when leading after two periods. ... The Sabres outshot the Thrashers 25-23.

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