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Gaustad helps Sabres hold off Maple Leafs

BUFFALO, New York (AP) -- Paul Gaustad scored midway through the

third period to help the Buffalo Sabres avoid a second-half

meltdown in a 5-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday

night.

Ryan Miller stopped 33 shots, including the first 16 he faced,

to earn his 30th win of the season in his first game back after

missing 13 because of a sprained left ankle.

Tim Connolly scored twice, Jochen Hecht had a goal and an assist

and Daniel Paille also scored for a Buffalo team that nearly

squandered a 4-0 lead.

The win set up a key Eastern Conference playoff showdown

Saturday, when Buffalo travels to face Montreal. With 80 points

and eight games left, the Sabres are in 10th place in the East,

five points behind Montreal, which holds the eighth and final

playoff spot.

Gaustad's goal was key, scored with 9:04 left and coming less

than three minutes after Matt Stajan and Nikolai Kulemin scored

43 seconds apart to cut it to 4-3.

Hecht set up the goal by driving up the right wing and getting

off a hard shot that rookie backup goalie Justin Pogge stopped,

but he lost the puck underneath his equipment, creating a

scramble in the crease. The puck eventually squirted loose into

the slot, where Toronto defender Ian White's clearing attempt

struck Gaustad and caromed into the open net.

Stajan and Boyd Devereaux had a goal and assist each for the

11th-place Maple Leafs, who lost for only the second time in six

games (4-2-0) and are all but mathematically eliminated from

contention.

Miller had little support on the three goals he allowed -

including Kulemin's, which came during a scramble in front and

after Miller made a diving stop to foil Alexei Ponikarovsky.

Miller, otherwise, showed little signs of rust or effects of the

injury and was particularly sharp in the first period, when he

made 14 saves - including two on bang-bang chances by Stajan

from the right circle.

The same could not be said for the goaltending at the Toronto

end. Veteran Curtis Joseph had a tough outing. He allowed four

goals on nine shots and was yanked 3:30 into the second period

after Paille and Connolly scored 21 seconds apart.

Joseph earned his 351st career loss to move within one of

matching Gump Worsley's NHL record.

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