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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis scored 1:50 apart in the second period and the Buffalo Sabres opened ground in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race with an 8-2 rout of the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night.

Rob Niedermayer scored twice and Ryan Miller (30-21-7) made 28 saves - and stopped Evander Kane's penalty shot - to become the eighth NHL goalie with six consecutive 30-win seasons. Mark Mancari had a goal and two assists, and Tyler Myers had three assists for eighth-place Buffalo, which moved two points ahead of idle Carolina.

Alexander Burmistrov and Chris Thorburn scored for the Thrashers, who dropped six points behind the Sabres with three weeks left in the season. ...more.

Prior to the game, Lindy Ruff talked about the importance of working hard while Brad Boyes told the media that the team would need to score “ugly” goals.  Nathan Gerbe’s second period goal would fit into both of those categories.  Gerbe and linemates Mark Mancari and Paul Gaustad were working the puck in the Atlanta zone when Gerbe came from behind the net and tried to stuff it just inside the post.  Thrashers goalie Chris Mason got a skate on it, and the puck sat near the goal line as Gerbe continued to hack at it before getting knocked down by an Atlanta defensemen.  Finally, while lying on the ice, Gerbe was able to poke it past Mason and into the net to give Buffalo a 4-2 lead and some breathing room. It would turn out to be the first of five unanswered goals by the Sabres as they cruised to an 8-2 win.  During the sequence, Gerbe was credited with four shots in four seconds.  The goal was Gerbe’s 10th of the season and second point (1-1-2) of the night while Mancari, who scored earlier, picked up the assist for his second point of the night.  Less than two minutes later, Tyler Ennis scored to make it a 5-2 game.

Mark Mancari scored his first goal of the season when he tipped in a shot from the point by Tyler Myers and later assisted on goals by Gerbe and Brad Boyes, giving him a career-high three-point game.  Mancari’s goal was his first in the NHL since Mar. 10, 2010 vs. Dallas, a span of 12 games.  He now has five points on a goal and four assists in 10 games with the Sabres this season, all of which are NHL career-highs.  The 25-year-old forward is also still leading AHL Portland in scoring this year with 64 points (32-32-64) in 56 games, which ranks him among the league leaders.

- Dominik Hasek, the Sabres’ franchise leader in just about every major goaltending category, dropped the puck for a ceremonial face-off prior to the game and received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at HSBC Arena.  Hasek is in Buffalo for the 2011 Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend, which is being hosted by Hasek’s Heroes.

I think the statement we’ve been trying to make for half the season now is just that we’re really competitive. You can’t judge us on our start to the season because after Christmas and maybe a little before Christmas we’ve been really hot and we’ve been playing really good hockey.” - Tyler Ennis
- Ryan Miller recorded his 30th victory of the season, marking the sixth straight season he has won at least 30 games.  It makes him just the eighth goalie in NHL history to win at least 30 games in six or more consecutive seasons as he joins Martin Brodeur (12), Patrick Roy (8), Tony Esposito (7), Jacques Plante (6), Marty Turco (6), Henrik Lundqvist (6) and Miikka Kirpusoff (6).

- After getting shutout by Cam Ward and the Carolina Hurricanes in their last game, it took the Sabres just 24 seconds to get on the board tonight as Jason Pominville tallied his 18th goal of the season moments after the opening faceoff.

- Ryan Miller stopped Evander Kane on a penalty shot in the first period, making Miller 12-for-13 on penalty shots in his career.  Miller had stopped Kane on his initial breakaway, but Kane was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked from behind by Jordan Leopold as he skated in alone on Miller.  Later in the period, he stopped Radek Dvorak on a shorthanded breakaway chance.

- Originally credited to Chris Butler, Buffalo’s third goal was scored by Rob Niedermayer, his third of the season and first on home ice.  Niedermayer added another goal late for his first multi-goal effort of the season.

- Atlanta’s starting goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, was replaced by Chris Mason to begin the second period.  Pavelec allowed three goals on 11 shots in the first period.  In two periods of play, Mason surrendered five goals on 17 shots.

- Mike Weber registered two assists, giving him five helpers in the last three games.  Tyler Myers collected three assists, breaking a three-game scoreless streak.

- Tyler Ennis scored his 18th goal of the season, which gives him nine points (5-4-9) in the last nine games.

- Buffalo’s eight goals were the most it has scored in a game this season.

- Seven different Sabres finished with multi-point games: Mancari (1-2-3), Myers (0-3-3), Niedermayer (2-0-2), Tim Connolly (1-1-2), Jason Pominville (1-1-2), Gerbe (1-1-2) and Weber (0-2-2).

- Tonight’s crowd of 18,690 gave the Sabres their seventh consecutive sellout at HSBC Arena.

- Jochen Hecht (upper body), Patrick Kaleta (bone bruise in leg) and Patrick Lalime (knee) remained sidelined for Buffalo while Shaone Morrisonn was scratched.

- Forwards Patrice Cormier and Ben Maxwell were out of the lineup for Atlanta.

For the third of four times this season, the Sabres play back-to-back home games when they host the Nashville Predators at 5 p.m. on Sunday in the only meeting of the season between the clubs. Buffalo defeated Nashville 1-0 the last time the teams played, which was Oct. 10, 2009 in the Music City.  Ryan Miller stopped all 25 shots he faced to record the shutout while Mike Grier scored the game’s only goal.  Sunday’s game will mark the first time the Predators visit Buffalo since Dec. 1, 2008.  Like Buffalo, the Predators will be playing for the second straight day after defeating Detroit 3-1 at home on Saturday.  Sunday’s game will be the last of a four-game homestand for the Sabres.

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