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Sabres may have saved season by beating Panthers

by John Kreiser
The Buffalo Sabres could see their season disappearing until Jason Pominville led a revival.

Pominville had a goal and two assists in a 2:07 span of the third period as the Sabres rallied from a 3-1 deficit for a 5-3 victory over the suddenly slumping Florida Panthers at HSBC Arena on Wednesday night.

"We had to be desperate. This is that time of year," Pominville said. "For us to dig deep and get a win, it was a game we had to win, there was no tomorrow."

Buffalo entered the night five points behind ninth-place Florida and seven in back of the eighth-place Montreal Canadiens. It looked like their playoff hopes were all but done when Michael Frolik scored 3:25 into the third period to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead in front of a stunned crowd.

But Pominville scored at 6:14 to give the Sabres some life, then assisted on goals by Clarke MacArthur at 7:05 and Tim Connolly at 8:21 to put the Sabres ahead. Maxim Afinogenov capped the night by hitting the empty net with 32 seconds left, moving Buffalo within five points of the Canadiens after snapping an 0-3-1 slide.

"Everybody's been writing us off and telling us we have no character in this room," said backup goalie Mikael Tellqvist, who made 30 saves. "This just shows everybody that we really want to win."

Even better news for the Sabres is that starting goaltender Ryan Miller, out for 13 games with a high ankle sprain, could be back Friday.

Brent McLean scored in the first period and Richard Zednik in the second for the Panthers, who are 1-4-3 in their last eight games after getting as high as sixth in the East.

"I don't have an answer," defenseman Bryan McCabe said. "Obviously, we picked a bad time of the year to start blowing leads. We have to find a way to remedy that."



The momentum changed shortly after Frolik scored a fluke goal -- he broke his stick on his shot and the puck caromed in off Sabres defender Henrik Tallinder -- to put Florida up 3-1. Pominville deflected in Tallinder's point shot to cut it to 3-2 and MacArthur tied it by blasting a shot through the legs of Tomas Vokoun.

Connolly put Buffalo ahead with a power-play goal when his shot from the left point deflected off the stick of Panthers' defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and past Vokoun.

Panthers coach Peter DeBoer placed the blame for the loss squarely on his goaltender.

"We need a big save at a critical time in the third period to win a game. I don't think we've gotten one lately," DeBoer said. "You can't let (the loss) be devastating. The goalie's got to close the door when you're in that situation. You know what? He didn't."

Vokoun finished with 40 saves while making his 11th straight start. It marked the seventh time -- and fourth straight -- the goalie has faced 30 or more shots during that stretch.

Vokoun was nearly lost for words to describe the meltdown.

"This is a tough loss for us. I'm still trying to realize what happened," he said.

Hurricanes 2, Senators 1 | Video

Carolina is hot at the right time. The Hurricanes earned their fifth consecutive win when Anton Babchuk scored a power-play goal with 6:01 remaining in regulation, snapping a 1-1 tie.

Rod Brind'Amour tied the game 3:15 into the third and assisted on Babchuk's winner to help the Hurricanes match a club record with their ninth straight home victory -- equaling a mark set during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2005-06. The Hurricanes also moved within a point of fourth-place Philadelphia in the East, though they've played four more games.

"We haven't done anything yet," Brind'Amour said. "I'm proud that we're playing in every game, and even though we've got some big wins, we seem to be able to let that go, come back and know we've got to win that next one. ... Even though we're in a situation where it looks good, 'Oh, you're in fourth or fifth or wherever you are,' if other teams win those games, we're really just barely hanging on."

Babchuk's winner came 1:29 into Carolina's third power play of the night. He took a feed from Joni Pitkanen near the top of the right circle and beat Brian Elliott for his 13th goal and fourth in five games. Babchuk has scored two of his three game-winning goals in his last five games.

"He's got an unbelievable shot. He's got to use it," teammate Tuomo Ruutu said. "When he uses it, it's a lot of damage. It's so hard, and it's been accurate lately as well."

The Senators had won five in a row and nine of their last 10 games to move onto the periphery of the playoff race and took a 1-0 lead when Ryan Shannon scored 1:16 into the third period. But the loss kept them nine points behind eighth-place Montreal with nine games remaining.

"In spurts, they pressured us, but I thought there were a few times we were able to maintain some pressure," Senators coach Cory Clouston said. "The power-play goal at the end was the difference.

"We just didn't seem real sharp tonight," added Clouston. "Neither team was dominant. It was kind of like a chess match."

Wild 6, Islanders 2 | Video

The 30th-place Islanders had been playing well at home, going 9-2-2 in their previous 13 games at the Nassau Coliseum, but were run over by Marian Gaborik and the Wild. Gaborik had two goals and two assists in his second game back after hip surgery to lead the Wild to a desperately needed win.

The win jumped the Wild into 10th place; Minnesota and Nashville both have 78 points, one behind eighth-place Edmonton and two in back of Anaheim, but the Wild have played one more game.

"We had to get this game no matter what and just do our job defensively and make sure that we're disciplined," Gaborik said. "There were some players running around, but that's what it is."

The Islanders, last in the NHL with 56 points, have been very competitive over the last two months. But they did little after taking the early lead on a goal by defenseman Bruno Gervais. Andy Hilbert's third-period goal made it 4-2.

"It's a disappointing game tonight," Hilbert said. "We've been playing well lately. It's a tough loss, we just have to learn from it, and move on and get back to work tomorrow."

Gaborik had his team's only goal in a 2-1 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. This time, he tied the game with his first goal at 11:46 of the opening period, set up goals by Owen Nolan in the second and Andrew Brunette in the third before scoring a late power-play goal to complete the scoring as Minnesota matched its biggest offensive output of the season against the 30th-place Islanders.

Antti Miettinen's power-play goal late in the first period put the Wild ahead to stay. Martin Skoula scored early in the third period for Minnesota, which had averaged just two goals a game while going 2-7-2 in its last 11 away from the Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota scored three power-play goals in a feisty game that saw 23 penalties called.

"We stuck together out there," said Isles forward Blake Comeau, who had two third- period penalties and four overall. "Anytime there was a scrum, there was always five guys in there. That's something you like to see, teammates stick up for each other."

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

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