A big first period helped the Detroit Red Wings move two points closer to their 23rd consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Darren Helm, Tomas Jurco and Daniel Alfredsson scored in a span of less than 10 minutes, and the Red Wings rode their fast start to a 3-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres at Joe Louis Arena on Friday.
The Red Wings (37-26-14) have won four in a row and hold the first wild-card playoff position in the Eastern Conference. They are three points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who hold the second wild-card spot, and four ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the closest of the teams outside the playoffs in the East.
Detroit and Columbus, which lost 4-3 at home to the Chicago Blackhawks, each has a game in hand on Toronto.
"We're going to keep going and we can't let up," Alfredsson said. "We've put ourselves in a good spot."
Jimmy Howard made 21 saves and is 5-0-0 against the Sabres. The Red Wings are 13-0-1 against the Sabres at home since Buffalo's regulation victory in Detroit on March 6, 1994.
It was coach Mike Babcock's 413th win for Detroit, tying him with Jack Adams for most in Red Wings history.
Last-place Buffalo, which didn't arrive in Detroit until nearly 4 a.m. Friday following a 2-1 road loss to the St. Louis Blues the night before, got a goal each from defenseman Jamie McBain and rookie Nicolas Deslauriers, his first in the NHL.
"We have nothing to lose," McBain said. "We left it all out on the ice. We battled, and hopefully it's a sign of things to come."
Rookie goaltender Matt Hackett made 28 saves.
"We competed. We battled," Hackett said. "We're going in the right direction."
Detroit jumped in front 5:47 into the first period. Danny DeKeyser's shot from the top of the right circle caromed off the end boards to Luke Glendening in front of the crease. Hackett stopped Glendening's shot but was helpless to prevent Helm from roofing the rebound for his 11th goal of the season.
It became 2-0 at 14:12, when DeKeyser's power-play slap shot from the right point was tipped by Jurco in the high slot and sailed past Hackett. Alfredsson, who had the second assist on Jurco's goal, made it 3-0 at 15:28 when he was left alone to hammer the rebound of Jakub Kindl's right-point slap shot.
"I thought we came out and really played well," Babcock said. "But like most games in the NHL, it's a one-goal game. Our guys did tons of good things. In reality, we had a lot of opportunities to score but didn't finish on a lot of our chances."
Buffalo, the NHL's lowest-scoring team, made it 3-1 at 12:28 of the second period when McBain scored 11 seconds into a power play. After Brendan Smith went off for holding the stick of Cory Conacher, the Sabres won the draw and McBain zipped a shot from the left faceoff dot that beat Howard to the short side for his fifth of the season. Chad Ruhwedel, who made the pass that set up McBain's goal, earned his first NHL point.
"I thought in the second period our intensity fell off and kind of got them going," Babcock said. "I thought we started real good. We were all over them. Suddenly we had some skill and we had cute-itis going and we didn't want to shoot it in the net. We wanted to pass it one more time, and the next thing you know it's game on."
Deslauriers, another of the Sabres' many call-ups this season, made it a one-goal game at 6:40 of the third period when he picked up a loose puck off a faceoff in the Detroit zone and whipped a shot from between the circles that beat Howard cleanly.
"It's about time," said Deslauriers, who played his 14th game. "The only bad note, the team lost."
The Sabres pressed for the tying goal in the final minutes but were able to get few clean attempts on Howard.
"We got a little cautious down the stretch, but overall I thought we handled it pretty well," Alfredsson said.
The Red Wings, who've battled injuries all season, got back center Pavel Datsyuk after he missed 16 games with an injured left knee. Datsyuk was plus-1 in 17:45 of ice time.
Referee Don Van Massenhoven worked the final game of his career. Retiring after more than two decades in the NHL, he was named the game's honorary First Star.
Material from team media was used in this report