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GAME: Buffalo Sabres (31-31-6-4) at Atlanta Thrashers (29-34-7-3).

TIME: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST.

The Buffalo Sabres certainly aren't making this easy on themselves.

After blowing leads in each of their last three games, the Sabres continue their pursuit of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when they open a three-game road trip against the Atlanta Thrashers.

For the third straight game, the Sabres squandered a lead and settled for one point as they lost 6-5 in overtime to Toronto on Monday.

Two goals and two assists from Jochen Hecht helped Buffalo build a 5-2 lead after two periods, but Toronto scored three times in the final 20 minutes and Tomas Kaberle beat Martin Biron with 75 seconds left in overtime.

It was the third straight overtime loss for the Sabres, who blew leads of 2-1 and 2-0 in a home-and-home series with Boston on Thursday and Saturday.

Buffalo - ninth in the East - is trying to catch the New York Islanders for the last playoff spot.

"Words really can't say how bad we feel right now," Buffalo's Jay McKee said. "The frustrating and disappointing part is we don't want to put ourselves in a position where we look back at the end of the season and ask, "What if?"'

Making matters worse for the Sabres was a mild concussion sustained by center Chris Drury - the team's fourth-leading scorer - in the first period Monday. Drury will be sidelined for at least a week.

"I thought what Nieuwendyk did is on the lines of a suspension," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "The guy has his helmet off and he fell on him and pounded his head into the ice. It was a gutless play on his part."

Buffalo also learned Tuesday that defenseman Alexei Zhitnik will miss the rest of the regular season with a right shoulder injury. Zhitnik originally injured his shoulder on March 7.

Sabres center Daniel Briere had a goal and an assist Monday, giving him four goals and four assists during a six-game point streak.

Atlanta is on the fringe of the playoff race in the East, sitting four points behind Buffalo in 11th place.

Dany Heatley scored 1:43 into overtime and Pasi Nurminen stopped 31 shots for his third shutout of the season, leading the Thrashers to a 1-0 victory over Carolina on Monday.

"We pretty much have to win every game," Nurminen said. "Ties are not enough. We have to get two points."

Monday's win gave Atlanta a franchise-record 16 at home this season. The Thrashers have at least a point in seven of their last nine games (5-2-1-1).

STANDINGS (through March 15): Sabres - 72 points, 5th place, 19 PB, Northeast Division. Thrashers - 68 points, 3rd place, 27 PB, Southeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Miroslav Satan, 28 goals; Briere, 32 assists and 57 points; Andrew Peters, 124 PIM. Thrashers - Ilya Kovalchuk, 37 goals, 40 assists and 77 points; Francis Lessard, 137 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 15): Sabres - Power play: 15.7 percent (49 for 312), 18th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (259 for 306), 9th. Thrashers - Power play: 14.8 percent (53 for 358), 23rd. Penalty killing: 85.9 percent (292 for 340), 2nd.

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Biron (20-17-4, 1 SO, 2.72 GAA); Mika Noronen (11-15-2, 2, 2.47). Thrashers - Nurminen (25-26-6, 3, 2.72); Kari Lehtonen (no appearances).

SEASON SERIES: Thrashers, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 16; Sabres, 7-2. At Buffalo, N.Y., Satan scored a career-high four goals, and Briere had a goal and two assists to lead the Sabres to their fourth straight win.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 13-19-2-1 on the road; Thrashers - 16-15-4-1 at home.

Associated Press
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