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Thrashers 5, Sabres 0 @NHLdotcom

ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Thrashers tied their franchise record with their 33rd win Monday night, and set a team record with their 19th home victory.

However, goalie Kari Lehtonen and the Thrashers are after a more notable milestone - the first playoff berth in franchise history.

Lehtonen stopped 20 shots for his second shutout of the season and the Thrashers stayed close in the playoff race with a 5-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

The Thrashers remain one point behind eighth-place Montreal, which defeated Washington on Monday night, in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"This was the greatest game I have ever been involved in team-wise," Lehtonen said. "We played so well. We scored when we had a chance and did not give them many chances."

Lehtonen had to stop only three shots in the first period and only eight through two. It was the 11th time in franchise history the Thrashers have allowed 20 or fewer shots.

Buffalo suffered its second straight loss following an eight-game winning streak. The Sabres suffered their most lopsided loss since a 5-0 loss to San Jose on Dec. 2.

The Thrashers, winners of six of eight, enjoyed their largest margin of victory since beating Ottawa 8-3 on Jan. 2.

Lehtonen, 22, started his 20th consecutive game and posted his first shutout since a 2-0 win over St. Louis on Jan. 13 - also the Thrashers' last shutout win.

Thrashers coach Bob Hartley said Lehtonen has been "under siege" in many close games.

"He handles it well, but to give him a five-goal cushion, I'm sure he appreciates the effort from the boys," Hartley said.

The Sabres were without coach Lindy Ruff, who was in Buffalo on Monday with his 11-year-old daughter, Madeleine, for her doctor's appointment. She has been diagnosed with an unidentified mass on her brain.

Assistants Scott Arniel and Brian McCutcheon were in charge Monday night, with Ruff expected to return Tuesday.

"We definitely feel like we let Brian and Scott down," said Buffalo center Daniel Briere. "We weren't sharp. The puck was bouncing. We were losing control. We weren't executing like we usually do."

Atlanta's Slava Kozlov said it was clear the Sabres missed Ruff.

"The Sabres did not show up tonight for one reason and that's their coach," Kozlov said. "He was not here today and I think all their minds were on him."

Ilya Kovalchuk, Peter Bondra, Kozlov, Steve McCarthy and Jaroslav Modry scored for the Thrashers.

"It was a huge game tonight and it was nice to really show up for a game like that," said Atlanta's Andy Sutton, who had two assists. "We are watching scores around the league, but first we have to take care of our own business and tonight we did that."

Atlanta played short-handed much of the first period, thanks to five penalties. The Thrashers still managed to keep the pressure on the Sabres and finally pulled ahead with late goals by Kovalchuk and Bondra.

Kovalchuk scored on a pass from Marc Savard with 4:13 left in the opening period. The shot glanced off goalie Martin Biron's glove.

The goal from the left circle stretched Kovalchuk's team record for goals in a season to 43.

Bondra scored on a tip-in with only 28 seconds left in the period to push the lead to 2-0.

Buffalo trailed by two or more goals before rallying for each of its three road wins in its eight-game winning streak.

The Thrashers quickly added to the lead. Kozlov's 20th goal of the season pushed the lead to 3-0 at 7:57 of the second period. McCarthy and Modry added power-play goals for a 5-0 lead.

Notes: With F Serge Aubin held out with a leg injury he suffered in Saturday night's loss to Philadelphia, the Thrashers recalled LW Ramzi Abid and C Derek Mackenzie from Chicago of the AHL. ... F Marian Hossa was held out with flu symptoms. ... Buffalo F Andrew Peters was charged with a 10-minute misconduct penalty and two-minute penalties for holding and roughing following contact near the Thrashers' net early in the third period. ... Biron fell to 18-7-3 and drew two penalties - delay of game in the first period and slashing in the third period.

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