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Sabres playoff hopes still alive, barely, after 3-1 win over the Leafs

NHL.com @NHL

TORONTO - The Buffalo Sabres kept their playoff hopes alive, barely, with a 3-1 victory over Toronto that shunted veteran Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph into a share of a dubious NHL record Wednesday night.

A sluggish contest was locked in a 1-1 stalemate when Thomas Vanek scored at 8:09 of the third period and Paul Gaustad fired one in at 8:35 to put the Sabres in front to stay.

Jeff Finger had scored for Toronto in the first period and Jason Pominville for the Sabres in the second.

Joseph was tagged with the 452nd loss of his career, tying him with the late Lorne (Gump) Worsley for most in NHL history. With Martin Gerber expected to get the start when Toronto completes its schedule at home Saturday against Ottawa, the 41-year-old native of nearby Keswick probably started his last game with the Leafs.

The Sabres needed the win, and to have an extraordinary combination of circumstances to go their way, to avoid missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. They now are within three points of the New York Rangers and the eighth and final playoff qualifying position.

To get in, they'll have to win their remaining games, at Carolina on Thursday and at home against Boston on Saturday, have the Rangers lose their remaining two, which are at home against Philadelphia on Thursday and in Philadelphia on Sunday, and have Florida earn no more than three points from its remaining two, which are at Atlanta on Thursday and at home against Washington on Saturday.

After a 4-1 home loss to Detroit on Monday, the Sabres were a dejected bunch when they laced their skates up for this one.

The Leafs have been a post-season pretender for months and skated with their usual got-nothin'-to-lose abandon.

Toronto led after one period on Finger's goal, a blue-line blast through traffic and past Ryan Miller, at 16:22.

Pominville tied it when his high blue-line slapshot went through a screen and past Joseph with Pavel Kubina watching from the penalty box at 1:50 of the second.

Joseph slid across his crease to rob Gaustad of a goal in the period's eighth minute, while Christian Hanson and Matt Stajan banged pucks off posts during Toronto's fifth manpower advantage late in the period.

It was up for grabs when the third period began.

Vanek deked Joseph one way and pulled the puck the other way to slip it into an open side of net for the go-ahead goal. Gaustad then shoved a rebound behind a fallen Joseph.

Toronto outshot Buffalo 33-29.

The Leafs have missed the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth straight season and have four fewer points than the 83 they finished with one year ago.

Notes(at): On power plays, Toronto was 0-for-6 and Buffalo was 1-for-2 . . . Buffalo outscored Toronto 21-6 in five straight wins over the Leafs since losing its first game against them this season back on Dec. 12 . . . A pre-game Leafs ceremony marked Brad May's 1,000th NHL game. May played 425 of them with the Sabres. This was his 37th with the Leafs. May became the 21st player in franchise history to play his 1,000th game in a Leafs uniform. The club gave May a silver stick inscribed with his name and those of other 20 men, and had Hall of Famer Red Kelly present it to him. They also donated $10,000 in his name to two charities.

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