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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Thomas Vanek scored 1:16 into overtime to cap a two-goal comeback and the Buffalo Sabres clinched a playoff berth with a 4-3 victory over the slumping Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night.

Vanek finished with a goal and two assists, while Nathan Gerbe scored twice, including a highlight reel spin-around goal that tied it midway through the third period. Jason Pominville also scored for the Sabres, who had already secured a postseason spot by earning a point when the game entered overtime.

With the win, they've clinched at least seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell had a goal and assist, and Kris Versteeg also scored for Philadelphia, which is winless in its past five games (0-3-2)... More

While it was Thomas Vanek who put an exclamation point on Friday’s celebration with a highlight-reel goal in overtime to give Buffalo the win, it was Nathan Gerbe’s game-tying goal in the third period that ultimately clinched the Sabres’ spot in the playoffs and was called the “biggest goal of the year for us” by Lindy Ruff.  Trailing 3-2 midway through the third period, Gerbe picked up the puck at his own blue line and zipped up the right wing boards before cutting toward the slot in the Philadelphia zone.  When he got to the middle of the ice, he suddenly stopped and spun back toward the right side and ripped a backhand to the far, top corner of the net, right over the shoulder of Flyers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.

With a playoff berth at stake, Nathan Gerbe came through with two goals in Buffalo’s 4-3 overtime win.  He now has 16 goals on the season, none bigger than the game-tying goal he scored in the third period.  He also tallied the Sabres’ first goal of the game when his wrist shot from just inside the blue line found its way through traffic and beat Bobrovsky 25 seconds into the second period.  Gerbe has collected four points in the last four games.  For the season, Buffalo is 10-1-2 when Gerbe scores a goal and 19-2-4 when he records a point.

- With the win, the Sabres have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season and the 29th time in franchise history. Their first round opponent has not yet been determined.

It shows a lot of character. A lot of people wrote us off and we talked about doing something special and it’s only part of the way done. I think what we need to understand is this isn’t the goal. This is a stop along the way, it’s a milestone and… we’re on the right path.” - Sabres Goalie Ryan Miller
- Tonight was Fan Appreciation Night as the Sabres played their regular season home finale.  More than 85 alumni were in attendance and walked a red carpet as they arrived at HSBC Arena as thousands of dedicated Sabres fans cheered and received autographs.  Prior to the game, the former Sabres were introduced to the fans by decade and received a rousing ovation.

- After the alumni were introduced, the Sabres handed out their team awards for the 2010-11 season.  Taking home hardware were Cody McCormick (Unsung Hero), Tyler Ennis (Rookie of the Year), Ryan Miller (Most Valuable Player) and North Tonawanda resident Jessica LaPoint as the “7th Man Fan of the Year.”

- Ryan Miller dressed for the first time since March 29 and began the game as the backup goaltender to Jhonas Enroth, but replaced Enroth to begin the third period.  Miller had missed the previous four games with an upper body injury. 

- Miller stopped all eight shots he faced in the third period to earn the victory. 

- The Sabres improved their record over the last 23 games to 15-4-4, a run that dates back to Feb. 23.  During that stretch, they have gone 9-1-2 on home ice.

- Enroth made 16 saves on 19 shots in two periods of play while making his fifth consecutive start. 

- Jason Pominville scored his 21st goal of the season, giving him eight points (3-5-8) in the last eight games.
- With an assist on Pominville’s goal, Thomas Vanek recorded his 40th helper of the season.  It also gives Vanek at least one point in 14 of his last 17 games.  He later added another assist and scored his 32nd goal of the season in overtime for a three-point outing.

- Kris Versteeg’s shorthanded goal was the 13th shorthanded goal allowed by the Sabres this season, the third highest total in the NHL.

- Tonight’s attendance of 18,690 represented Buffalo’s 13th straight sellout at HSBC Arena.

- Andrej Sekera missed the game with an upper body injury.  According to Ruff, Sekera strained a muscle in practice on Thursday.

- Jochen Hecht (upper body), Mike Grier (knee), Jordan Leopold (hand) remained sidelined for Buffalo with injuries. Patrick Lalime and Patrick Kaleta were also scratched. 

- Defensemen Chris Pronger and Nick Boynton, forwards Blair Betts and Jody Shelley and goalie Michael Leighton were out of the lineup for Philadelphia.

Buffalo will finish the regular season with their league-leading 22nd set of back-to-back games.  Immediately following tonight’s game, the Sabres boarded a plane and headed to Columbus for their second meeting of the season with the Blue Jackets and their 82nd game of the regular season.  Buffalo won the first matchup against Columbus back on Dec. 3 by a 5-0 score.

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