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Sabres 4, Maple Leafs 3, SO

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TORONTO (AP) -Maxim Afinogenov overcame his seasonlong struggles for one night, and preserved the Buffalo Sabres' playoff hopes.

Afinogenov's shootout goal Tuesday night kept the Sabres in the hunt for a postseason spot with a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

The Sabres moved to three points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference. However, Buffalo doesn't play until Thursday at Montreal. In the interim, Boston visits New Jersey and Philadelphia is at Pittsburgh, so Buffalo's playoff chances will be at stake while the Sabres are off.

"We're still alive," said Afinogenov, who has a career-low 10 goals this season. "Maybe the other teams will be a little shaken, and hopefully it'll be good for us."

Afinogenov, in the sixth round of the shootout, faked right and shot left against Toronto goalie Andrew Raycroft.

"I had a couple of plans in my mind," Afinogenov said. "But that was the move I wanted to make."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff added: "That was an important goal. ... And the move was one of his best."

The teams exchanged goals in the first round of the shootout, but came up empty for the next four rounds. Buffalo improved to 4-9 in shootouts, while Toronto fell to 3-4.

"We absolutely needed it, so I was happy to come through," said Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, who made 19 saves. "Maybe it's a starting point, that we can feel like we can play with a little more pressure on us."

Buffalo's Thomas Vanek tied the game at 3 with 5:21 remaining in regulation, tipping in a shot while screening Raycroft.

Alex Steen had given Toronto a 3-2 lead less than 3 minutes earlier, wristing a shot from the slot past Miller's right leg.

Darcy Tucker had a goal and an assist, and Tomas Kaberle also scored for Toronto. Raycroft, making his first appearance since Feb. 5 and first start since Jan. 20, made 38 saves.

Derek Roy and Steve Bernier also scored for Buffalo, and Roy extended his point streak to a career-high 10 games.

Buffalo, the defending Presidents' Trophy winner, is looking to avoid becoming the third team in the NHL expansion era (since 1967-68) to miss the playoffs after topping the league regular-season standings the previous season. Only the New York Rangers in 1992-93 and Montreal in 1969-70 have done that.

Tucker opened the scoring just 31 seconds into the game, tapping in a rebound after Miller stopped an initial shot by Pavel Kubina.

Kaberle netted a power-play goal with less than a minute to go in the opening period. He faked Miller on the left side of the net, then skated behind to attempt a wraparound. Miller was unable to get up and Kaberle bounced the puck off the prone goalie.

Roy scored his 32nd 4 minutes into the second period, shoveling in a rebound. Midway through the third, Bernier banged in a rebound while being forced into a collision with Raycroft.

Toronto lost for the seventh time this season after holding a two-goal lead, but this was the first such loss in a shootout.

"It was a good game, especially the first period," said Kaberle, who also scored Toronto's lone goal in the shootout. "Too bad we came up short. It would have been nice to keep Buffalo out of the playoffs."

Notes: Toronto played without C Mats Sundin and RW Nik Antropov. Each had played the previous two games, but Sundin's groin injury flared again, and Antropov (knee) was scratched after the pregame skate. ... Maple Leafs C Kyle Wellwood missed his second straight game, and will have surgery for a sports hernia on Wednesday. ... Miller has allowed four first-minute goals this season, tying him with Columbus' Pascal Leclaire for most allowed in the league. Buffalo is the only team in the NHL to allow five goals in the opening minute. ...Kubina extended his point streak to a career-high seven games. ... Roy's 10-game point streak tied Jason Pominville for the longest by a Sabres player this season.

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