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Sabres slice and dice Capitals in Washington

Buffalo takes huge step in playoff charge

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WASHINGTON -- With a magnificent performance on the road in a pivotal late-season game, the surging Buffalo Sabres took another huge step in their charge to the playoffs.

In the process, Buffalo dealt a severe blow to the erring Washington Capitals.

Ryan Miller stopped 44 shots, Drew Stafford scored two goals and the Sabres beat Washington 5-1 Tuesday night to climb over the Capitals into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

It was the fifth straight win for the Sabres, their longest streak since a six-game run in 2009-2010. Buffalo was in 14th place on Feb. 17 before going on a 14-2-4 tear.

The Sabres have 86 points, two more than Washington and two fewer than seventh-place Ottawa. All three teams have five games left.

"It's a great thing because of the way we're playing," Stafford said. "We can control our fate now. We know every game from now on is just like it's been the past month or so -- it's must-win. Even though we're in right now, it doesn't matter to us because we've got games left and we need to get the job done."

Buffalo took a 3-0 lead early in the second period and coasted home behind Miller, who's 14-1-3 over his past 18 games, allowing only 32 goals in that span. He's also 8-0-2 in his past 10.

The standout goaltender had plenty of help.

"It was pretty important to have everybody going," Miller said. "Every line contributed and everybody played hard. It was a great team effort, and the perfect time to do it."

Buffalo took control with a two-goal first period and went up 3-0 on Thomas Vanek's 25th goal of the season at 2:31 of the second period. That chased Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who stopped 15 shots.

Alexander Semin answered for Washington at 5:07 of the period, and the Capitals had a chance to further cut into the deficit with a power play. Instead, Washington's most esteemed player made a critical mistake that pretty much sealed the decision.

With the Capitals working in Buffalo's end of the ice, Alex Ovechkin misplayed the puck at the point and Buffalo's Jason Pominville gained possession and bolted the other way, ending his run with a short-handed goal against Michal Neuvirth for a 4-1 lead.

"I thought we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves," Washington's Karl Alzner said. "The crowd was feeling pretty good, I think. And that was a real killer."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2012 C2

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