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Toronto Maple Leafs 2, Buffalo Sabres 0 FINAL @NHLdotcom

BUFFALO N.Y. (AP) _ So much for the questions about Ed Belfour's aching back and advancing age.

Just in time for the playoffs, Belfour stopped 17 shots to record his 74th career shutout in Toronto's 2-0 win over Buffalo on Friday night. In keeping the Maple Leafs' chances alive to win the Northeast Division title, Belfour posted his ninth shutout of the season to match a career high. It was his third blanking in 14 starts since he returned after missing eight games with back problems.

``Who said age is a handicap? The guy's unbelievable,'' Maple Leafs forward Alexander Mogilny said. ``It comes down to preparation and dedication to the game. I've never seen anybody in his position work as hard as he does.''

And it's performances such as these from Belfour, who turns 39 later this month, that have provided the Maple Leafs with a boost.

``The team is so confident when he's in the net,'' Mogilny said. ``When Eddie's on like tonight, it gives us an extra push out there.''

Chad Kilger scored 5:46 into the third period and Joe Nieuwendyk had an empty-net goal for Toronto, which set a franchise record by earning its 101st point of the season.

With two days left in the season, the Maple Leafs still don't know where they'll finish as four points separate second and sixth place.

Toronto, in fifth place, closes its season at Ottawa on Saturday. The Maple Leafs trail Ottawa and Boston by a point.

One thing's for certain, the Sabres will miss the playoffs for a franchise record third straight season. They were eliminated when the New York Islanders beat Carolina.

``There's no good feeling about not making the playoffs, but it's one heck of a better feeling this year than last year,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.

Ruff was referring to last season's uncertainty in which the franchise declared bankruptcy in January and finished with 27 victories, the team's fewest in 31 years. The future looks brighter for the Sabres, who have a strong owner in B. Thomas Golisano. They will finish with at least 37 victories, the most since they won 46 in 2000-01 _ the last time the team qualified for the playoffs.

The Sabres close out their season at Montreal on Saturday.

Toronto had the best scoring chances and was outshooting Buffalo 23-14 before the game's first goal.

Kilger finally found a way to beat Martin Biron, converting Ron Francis' rebound. After Biron stopped the first shot from the slot, the puck caromed directly to Kilger, who snapped it in the open side.

The goal came two minutes after Biron got a glove up to foil Gary Roberts from the right circle, and a minute after Nik Antropov banged a shot off the post from in close.

Nieuwendyk sealed it with 17.2 seconds remaining.

Kilger, claimed off waivers on March 9, was happy to help, particularly playing alongside Francis and Mogilny.

``Those guys create a lot of offensive things out there and I'm just trying to get in front of the net and create traffic,'' Kilger said. ``I just wanted to show I could contribute.''

Belfour moved within one shutout of New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who leads active goalies with 75. He has 434 career victories, one shy of Jacques Plante _ third on the NHL career list.

``It's great to see him get that win and get his name mentioned alongside Jacques Plante,'' Francis said. ``That's a heck of an accomplishment.''

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