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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Jordan Leopold and Drew Stafford scored 13 seconds apart in the third period and the Buffalo Sabres moved closer to securing a playoff spot with a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

Stafford had two goals and an assist, while Pominville had a goal and assist for Buffalo, which won back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks. Ryan Miller was sharp in making 22 saves as the eighth-place Sabres (37-28-9) moved within two points of the idle New York Rangers.

Buffalo remained three points ahead of Carolina for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sergei Samsonov and Evgeny Dadonov scored for the 14th-place Panthers (29-36-10), who were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.... More

Just as he did in last Saturday’s 8-2 rout of Atlanta when he scored 24 seconds into the game, Jason Pominville scored early again to stake the Sabres to a quick lead.  This time, it took him 1:24 to light the lamp and it came at the end of a scramble in front of Florida netminder Tomas Vokoun.  Sekera took a shot from the point that was stopped by Vokoun.  As Thomas Vanek fought for the rebound, he was pushed into Vokoun by Panthers defenseman Keaton Ellerby, leaving Pominville alone in front to knock in the puck for his 19th goal of the season.

Drew Stafford scored two goals and added an assist to reach 45 points for the season, tying the career-high he set in 2008-09.  He now has a team-leading 28 goals on the season.  Stafford’s first goal of the game was also his first since March 6 and broke a 1-1 tie in the second period as he was somehow able to get his stick on a pass from Brad Boyes in front of the crease.  His second goal came in the third period when he knocked in a Tyler Ennis rebound, and occurred just 13 seconds after Jordan Leopold had scored a power play goal to put Buffalo ahead, 3-1.

- With the win, the Sabres are now 10-3-3 over their last 16 games dating back to Feb. 23.

I think we’re feeling good about the way we’re playing but we have to stay consistent with that and just focus on the two points ahead of us. That’s what’s been successful for us so we’re going to stick with it." - Paul Gaustad
- Ryan Miller made 22 saves on 24 shots to earn his 32nd win of the season.  In his last five games, Miller has posted a 1.81 goals against average and a .938 save percentage.

- With 19 goals on the season, Pominville is one goal shy of reaching the 20-goal mark for the fifth consecutive year.

- When Jordan Leopold and Stafford scored 13 seconds apart in the third period, it marked the 13th time this season that Buffalo scored twice in under a minute.  Only Boston (14) has done it more times.

- Tyler Ennis collected two assists and now has 12 points (6-6-12) in the last 12 games.

- Paul Gaustad briefly left the game midway through the second period after taking an elbow to the head from Florida’s Stephen Weiss, but returned to start the third period. Weiss received a two-minute minor for elbowing.

- Florida’s goal at 4:01 of the first period snapped Miller’s shutout streak at 64:01 and ended the Panthers’ scoreless streak at 135:21.  Florida entered the game having been shutout in each of its last two outings.

- Nathan Gerbe (4-1-5) and Tyler Myers (0-5-5) each had their three-game point streaks snapped.

- Tonight’s attendance of 18,690 marked the ninth consecutive sellout at HSBC Arena.

- The Buffalo lineup remained the same as Steve Montador (lower body), Jochen Hecht (upper body), Patrick Kaleta (bone bruise in leg) and Patrick Lalime (knee) remained sidelined for Buffalo.

- Montador, Hecht and Lalime have all practiced with the team in recent days.  Friday morning, Lindy Ruff had said Montador would be a game-time decision.

- Forwards Jack Skille, Shawn Matthias and Scott Timmins were out of the lineup for Florida.

Saturday will mark the conclusion of Buffalo’s fourth and final set of back-to-back home games on the season when they host the New Jersey Devils in the final meeting of the season between the teams.  The Sabres have gone 2-0-1 against the Devils thus far, but have not faced them since Nov. 10.   Following that game, the Devils dropped 19 of their next 25, but then turned it around and have gone 24-6-3 since Jan. 9, which includes a 1-0 shootout loss to Pittsburgh Friday night.  Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored the game-winner in a 1-0 overtime win over the Sabres in Buffalo on Oct. 13, leads New Jersey in scoring with 27-25-52. 

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