BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Now this was more to Ryan Miller's liking.
Unhappy with the Sabres' last outing, the goaltender was impressed with the patience Buffalo displayed in a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night. Not only did the Sabres beat the opportunistic and defensive-minded Devils at their own game, the win moved Buffalo closer to clinching the Eastern Conference title. Not a bad way for the Sabres to bounce back from a sloppy 4-1 loss at Toronto last weekend, a game in which the goalie questioned his team's effort.
"We got the rewards for playing the right way," said Miller, who stopped 28 shots. "The Devils play a very patient system that benefits them come playoff time.
"And we feel if we can play against that, we can play against a lot of teams in this league."
Jochen Hecht scored twice, while the Sabres also got goals from rookie Daniel Paille and Ales Kotalik - both forwards playing their first games after missing extended stretches due to injuries.
With six games left, the Sabres (49-20-7) extended their lead atop the East standings to seven points over the Devils, as well as idle Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Buffalo also moved into a tie for first place in the NHL with Nashville.
Scott Gomez, Paul Martin and Zach Parise scored for the Devils (45-24-8), who were coming off a 3-2 victory at the New York Islanders on Tuesday. Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots and remains three wins short of matching Bernie Parent's single-season record for victories.
Brodeur has 44 wins, tied with Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, for the NHL lead.
"They hit their shots," said Brodeur, referring to the Sabres' final three goals coming on one-timers or off rebounds. "They sat back and were a pretty patient team.
"They didn't give us too much and they capitalized on their opportunities."
Just the way Sabres coach Lindy Ruff drew it up. It wasn't pretty, leading to a dull first two periods, but it was effective.
"I think this was a real good win for our team," Ruff said. "The fact that we had to tone down the style of our play, that we had to be a lot more patient.
"And I thought we cleaned up a lot of the careless errors and the careless turnovers."
The Sabres, who never trailed, took control when Paille and Hecht, with his second of the game, scored four minutes apart in the third period to put Buffalo ahead 3-1.
Paille, back after missing 15 games with a broken finger, scored after Brodeur made the initial save on Adam Mair's shot from the right circle. Paille then beat Martin to the rebound and slid it through the goalie's legs.
Hecht scored on a one-timer from the right circle, set up by Daniel Briere's cross-ice feed during a 3-on-2 rush.
Martin cut the lead to 3-2 with 6:11 left, but Kotalik sealed the win two minutes later with a one-timer from the left circle. Kotalik returned after missing 16 games with a knee injury.
"Now they have to go a long way to catch us," Kotalik said of the Sabres' conference rival. "It's always a little confidence-booster for upcoming games."
The Devils have the Atlantic Division race to focus on - they're tied with Pittsburgh and both teams have five games left.
The Penguins are on roll, 8-2-0 in their last 10, while the Devils are slumping, having lost five of their past eight.
"They're not losing any games. They're just getting points left and right," Brodeur said of the Penguins. "So that's what we're aiming, to win every game and getting on a roll before the playoffs start."
Notes: Devils C Travis Zajac had two assists, increasing his point streak to seven games, during which he has two goals and six assists. ... Devils C John Madden missed his seventh game with a groin injury. ... Briere's assist on Hecht's second goal gave him 90 points (31 goals, 59 assists), making him the first Buffalo player to reach that plateau since Pat LaFontaine had 91 points in 1995-96.