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GAME: Buffalo Sabres (35-32-6-4) at Pittsburgh Penguins (21-46-7-4).

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

The Buffalo Sabres will try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive when they conclude a home-and-home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With a 5-1 blowout over the Penguins on Friday, the Sabres moved within six points of the New York Islanders for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have five games remaining.

"A lot of people gave up on this team a long time ago," said Sabres defenseman Jay McKee. "Everyone in this room is playing confident right now, and we're up to the challenge."

McKee and Chris Drury scored goals within a one-minute span to break a 1-1 tie in the second period. Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov and Andrew Peters also scored for Buffalo, which has won three straight and four of its last five (4-1-0).

Jochen Hecht had three assists for Buffalo, and has 15 points in his last nine games.

"Right now, against any team, we have to win," said goaltender Martin Biron, who made 24 saves in winning his fourth straight game and has started 11 of the last 12 games. "It's not to just live another day - it's to tighten things up."

The Sabres haven't qualified for the postseason since 2000-01, and have never missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons in their 34-year history.

"Every game is a must win," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "When teams above us look at it, they must be thinking we won't go away. If they skip a beat, we can still close on them."

The Sabres snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Penguins, who entered the game having won three straight and gone 10-4-2 since an 18-game winless streak (0-17-0-1). Pittsburgh is already eliminated from the playoff race.

Milan Kraft had a power-play goal for the Penguins, who have scored with the man advantage in 12 straight games. Aleksey Morozov assisted on Kraft's goal, and has 13 points in his last eight games.

"We didn't generate as much as we would have liked," Penguins coach Eddie Olczyk said. "You're going to make your own breaks, and I believe tonight Buffalo made theirs."

STANDINGS: Sabres - 80 points, 5th place, 17 PB, Northeast Division. Penguins - 53 points, 5th place, 45 PB, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Miroslav Satan, 29 goals; Briere, 34 assists and 60 points; Andrew Peters, 136 PIM. Penguins - Ryan Malone, 22 goals; Dick Tarnstrom, 36 assists and 51 points; Brooks Orpik, 125 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 25): Sabres - Power play: 16.2 percent (56 for 346), 15th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.7 percent (277 for 327), 7th. Penguins - Power play: 18.2 percent (62 for 340), 7th. Penalty killing: 76.6 percent (269 for 351), 30th.

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Biron (24-17-4, 1 SO, 2.61 GAA); Mika Noronen (11-16-2, 2, 2.45). Penguins - Jean-Sebastien Aubin (6-8-0, 1, 2.97); Caron (8-24-4, 1, 3.85).

SEASON SERIES: Penguins, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: March 26; Sabres, 5-1. At Buffalo, N.Y., Caron made 26 saves for the Penguins and is 2-2-1 in his last five starts.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 15-20-2-1 on the road; Penguins - 12-22-5-0 at home.

Associated Press
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