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).
The Flyers late-season skid has prevented them from clinching the Atlantic Division title, and they’ve now fallen into a tie with the Pittsburgh Penguins. With 104 points, both teams have one game left, though the Flyers have the tiebreaker edge on their cross-state rivals.
The Flyers loss also allowed Washington to clinch the top spot in the East.
The Sabres in the meantime capped what’s been a remarkable second half run in which they’ve gone 28-11-6 since Dec. 28. Buffalo was 10 points out of playoff contention in mid-January. The Sabres are 15-4-4 since Pennsylvania billionaire Terry Pegula completed the purchase of the franchise in February.
Vanek scored the decisive goal on a partial breakaway, when he split the defense and cut in on net to slip a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky.
Gerbe’s second goal proved to be the key, tying the game at 3 with 9:57 left in the third period. Driving up the right wing, Gerbe came to a skidding stop inside the right circle and then spun around while in one motion lifting a blind backhander at the net that sneaked in through a crowd and just inside the left post.
The Sabres also got a boost from Ryan Miller, who stopped all eight shots he faced to earn the win by replacing Jhonas Enroth to start the third period. It was Miller’s first game since missing four after taking a shot off the collarbone in a 4-3 loss to Toronto on March 29.
The Sabres took no chances in securing at least a tie. In getting the puck with 40 seconds left, Buffalo players controlled it in their own zone with the Flyers hanging back at their blue line. Seeing what was happening, the crowd got up and provided Buffalo a standing ovation until the final buzzer sounded.
it was a back-and-forth second period in which the Sabres struck twice in a 3:54 span to build a 2-1 lead. Gerbe, from the right point, fired a shot in through a crowd 25 seconds into the period, then Thomas Vanek set up Pominville’s goal, by finding him all alone driving to the net in the right circle.
The Flyers rebounded with Versteeg capitalizing on Tyler Ennis’ turnover in the Philadelphia end to set up a 2-on-1 short-handed break. Versteeg carried the puck up the left wing and fired a shot that beat Enroth inside the far post at the 7:37 mark.
Buffalo defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani’s turnover through the middle then led to Briere’s goal. The Flyers worked the puck back up the ice to Hartnell, who set up Briere for a one-timer from the left circle.
The Flyers scored on two of their first three shots of the period, and finished the frame with only six shots.
NOTES: Sabres D Andrej Sekera did not play and is listed day to day with an undisclosed upper-body injury. … The Flyers scored their 13 short-handed goal of the season, tying Pittsburgh for second most in the NHL. … Briere was playing his first game after missing two with a lower-body injury. … Both teams close their regular seasons Saturday, with the Flyers hosting the Islanders and the Sabres playing at Columbus. … As part of a fan appreciation night for their home finale, the Sabres had more than 80 alumni present. After attending a team-sponsored banquet on Thursday, the alumni were paraded in front of the fans outside the arena prior to the game, and then introduced on the ice. The former Sabres on hand included Gilbert Perreault, Pat LaFontaine and Phil Housley. … In a vote conducted by Sabres players, Miller was selected the team’s MVP, C Tyler Ennis rookie of the year and C Cody McCormick unsung hero.
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