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Sabres stay on course

THE Buffalo Sabres kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 3-1 road victory over Toronto on Wednesday, and handed Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph a share of an unwelcome milestone.

The 41-year-old Joseph tied Gump Worsley's NHL record for the most career losses with 452. At the other end, his Sabres counterpart Ryan Miller tallied 32 saves in the win.

Thomas Vanek fired past Joseph in the third period for his 38th goal of the season as the Sabres pulled within four points of the New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We can't get too excited, bounce around too much," Miller told reporters. "We've just got to go out and play. If we can win out, I think we can feel decent about the effort we put in the last few weeks here."

With two games remaining, Buffalo (39-32-9) would need the Rangers to lose their last two games while hoping the ninth-place Florida Panthers do not score three points in their last two. Long out of possible playoff contention, the Maple Leafs (33-35-13) were coming off a win against the New Jersey Devils in which goalie Martin Gerber recorded 47 saves, but dropped their third game in four contests.

Unanswered goals

Jeff Finger put Toronto on top with a score at 16:22 into the first before Buffalo countered with three unanswered goals.

Jason Pominville evened things 1:50 into the second while Vanek and Paul Gaustad followed with scores in the third.

Buffalo face the Carolina Hurricanes next as they continue their push and try avoid missing the playoffs for the second straight year.

"It's a little nerve-wracking, a little exciting knowing you have your backs against the wall," said Sabres defenseman Chris Butler. "We don't have any other option but to win games. Now we move on to Carolina, and it's the same situation."

In Chicago, defenseman Fedor Tyutin scored the lone goal in the shootout as the Columbus Blue Jackets earned their first playoff berth in franchise history, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3.

Columbus' Rick Nash scored his 39th goal with 5:30 left in regulation to tie it at 3 and set up overtime. The Blue Jackets' Antoine Vermette also scored and assisted on Jason Williams' goal in regulation.

Brent Seabrook, Dave Bolland and Martin Havlat scored in regulation for the Blackhawks, whose four-game winning streak ended.

Chicago needs one point to clinch fourth place in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks will make their first postseason appearance since 2002 and only their second in 11 seasons.

Columbus goalie Steve Mason made 24 saves.


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