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Miller returns, helps Sabres hold off Leafs

by John Kreiser
Ryan Miller's return couldn't come soon enough for the Buffalo Sabres.

The Sabres struggled badly after Miller went down with a high ankle sprain on Feb. 21, going 4-7-2 without him. But he showed no rust on Friday, stopping 33 shots to lead Buffalo to a 5-3 victory over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs to give the Sabres' playoff hopes a boost.

"It felt pretty good throughout the whole night," Miller said of the ankle. "I'll throw some ice on it tonight, see how it feels and go back at it."

The win set up a key Eastern Conference playoff showdown Saturday, when Buffalo travels to face eighth-place Montreal. With 80 points and eight games left, the Sabres are 10th in the East, five points behind the Canadiens, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot.

"You have to win every game," Sabres defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said. "For us, every game's big. You have to play really smart, win the battles and keep it simple, especially in the beginning."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said there's no question who'll be in goal at the Bell Centre.

"Miller will play," Ruff said. "I don't think there's any secret there."

While Miller stopped the first 16 shots he faced, including all 14 in the first period, Toronto's Curtis Joseph had a tough night. He allowed four goals on nine shots before being lifted after Tim Connolly scored 3:30 into the second to give Buffalo a 4-0 lead.

The Leafs rallied to make a game of it. Boyd Devereaux scored a shorthanded goal at 16:36 of the second period, and goals by Matt Stajan and Nikolai Kulemin in a 43-second span cut the Sabres' lead to 4-3 with 11:30 remaining.



But Paul Gaustad was credited with an insurance goal with 9:04 to play when Ian White's attempt to knock the puck away during a scramble hit him and went into the net.

"They smelled blood and wanted to get back on the attack," Miller said. "We did a good job not panicking and getting pucks to the net. We were definitely rewarded with (Gaustad's) goal."

Joseph took his 351st career loss to move to within one of matching Gump Worsley's NHL record. He also has 453 wins.

"You have to find a way to bring your best every night, and tonight wasn't my night," Joseph said. "We did battle back, no question. I thought we would make a great comeback, but it was a little too late."

Capitals 5, Lightning 3 | Video

There were no wild celebrations this time when Alex Ovechkin scored twice as the Capitals extended their winning streak over Tampa Bay to 10 games. In fact, the biggest celebration was for someone who hadn't scored since Dec. 27, 2007.

Brian Pothier's goal with 15:30 remaining snapped a 3-3 tie after the Capitals had blown a two-goal lead. It was an emotional one for Pothier, a 31-year-old defenseman who missed more than a year with a concussion that nearly forced him to retire.

"It's been a while and really feels good," said Pothier, playing his fourth game since returning. "I had to hold back the emotion a little bit, but I feel like I'm contributing. To put one in and an important goal was pretty special."

Pothier's shot threaded through a crowd of players to beat goaltender Mike McKenna high to the stick side. It was the first goal scored by any Capitals defenseman other than Mike Green in 16 games.

"I just told him 15 months is way too long in between goals," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You just think of the mountain the man had to climb. If you guys knew the days he came in -- he couldn't even focus, and he just sat there and he'd bring his kids in and he'd walked around and he'd leave. He practiced for two straight months without getting cleared, and he worked so hard, and to see a little bit of success happen to him tonight was really uplifting."

The victory, combined with New Jersey's overtime loss in Chicago, moved the Caps into second place in the East, one point ahead of the Devils. The teams could meet in the second round of the playoffs.

Ovechkin, who garnered attention for a controversial celebration after scoring his 50th goal at Tampa Bay last week, was much more conventional after scoring No. 52 on a power play 6:49 into the game and No. 53 into an empty net with 7 seconds remaining. He also had two assists to reach the 100-point mark for the third time in his four NHL seasons.

Ovechkin's goal and two by Nicklas Backstrom gave Washington a 3-1 lead after one period. But Tampa Bay got a goal from Steven Stamkos in the final minute of the second period and another by Vaclav Prospal 2:59 into the third to pull even.

"We played hard tonight," said forward Martin St. Louis, who scored in the first period for Tampa Bay. "Unfortunately we didn't get the result. But I think if we play like that with that kind of desperation and intensity game-in and game-out, we'd be very happy."

Blackhawks 3, Devils 2 (OT) | Video

Don't look now, but the Devils and Martin Brodeur have dropped three in a row. Chicago got a measure of revenge for being the party of the second part in Brodeur's record-setting 552nd win 10 days ago when Brent Seabrook scored with 1:24 remaining in overtime.

New Jersey wasted a couple of chances to clear the puck before Seabrook teed up a straightaway 55-footer than went through traffic and high into the net, giving the Hawks their third consecutive victory and keeping them fourth in the West, two points ahead of Vancouver.

"I didn't see much. I saw (Seabrook) wind up but my defensemen were in front of me and I couldn't follow the puck," Brodeur said.

Seabrook said the Blackhawks, who finished with 42 shots, wanted to get pucks at the net and bodies in front of it.

"Brodeur is such a great goalie," he said. "We wanted to funnel as many pucks as we could at him. If it takes a bounce or goes off someone or he can't see it, we will get lucky."

It was the Devils' first loss to Chicago since Oct. 10, 1998, and their third in a week since Brodeur shut out Minnesota 4-0 last Friday for his 553rd victory. The single point moved the Atlantic Division-leading Devils eight points ahead of second-place Philadelphia. New Jersey is four points behind Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and one behind second-place Washington with a pair of games in hand on the Capitals.

Brodeur faced 20 shots in the first period as the Devils paraded to the penalty box, but allowed only Kris Versteeg's power-play goal at 5:51. Versteeg finished off a pass from Martin Havlat.

But giving up five power plays in the first minute didn't make Devils coach Brent Sutter a happy man.

"Our penalty killers did a great job," he said. "But we have certain guys who need to do a better job of knowing how to play the game at this time of year. Don’t make the hope-and-chance plays; make the intelligent, smart play."

New Jersey's Zach Parise tied it at 7:23 on a rising shot from the right circle that may have deflected off the stick of Chicago defenseman Aaron Johnson. It was his 42nd of the season, more than anyone in the NHL except Washington's Alex Ovechkin.

Paul Martin gave the Devils a 2-1 lead with 18 seconds left in period, knocking in a rebound during a scramble after Nikolai Khabibulin made saves on Brian Gionta and Dainius Zubrus.

Havlat tied it 2-2 with 5:37 left in the second on a low shot from high in the slot with Chicago's Andrew Ladd parked in front of Brodeur.

"We kept hanging in there," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think we've recaptured a lot of the confidence in ourselves and our team game. Toward the end of that stretch, we were still doing some good things and I think that first win certainly helped us. We have more patience now and more confidence around our net."

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.


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