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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Rookie Marcus Foligno scored a power-play goal 1:45 into the third period, and the Buffalo Sabres continued their late-season surge into playoff contention with a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
Cody Hodgson had a goal and assist, while Thomas Vanek scored his first goal in eight games for Buffalo which overcame a slow start to improve to 6-0-2 in its past eight and 18-5-5 in its past 28. Ryan Miller stopped 24 shots in helping the Sabres (37-29-10) vaulted two points ahead of Washington and alone into eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Sabres have six games left — one fewer than the Capitals — and haven’t been in playoff contention since the morning of Dec. 20. And they’re on a roll at home, improving to 7-0-2 in their past nine.
Steven Kampfer scored the lone goal for the Wild (31-33-10), who continue to fall out of playoff contention as part of an 11-26-7 slide since they had the NHL’s best record on Dec. 10. Minnesota had a two-game winning streak snapped and dropped to 3-8-1 in its past 12.
The Wild’s last chance to tie it ended with 38 seconds left when Kurtis Foster was penalized for tripping. That led to Hodgson to seal the game by scoring into an empty net with 1 second remaining.
Foligno’s goal came less than a minute after Darroll Powe was penalized for holding. The Sabres worked the puck around to Tyler Myers at the right point, from where he blasted a shot on net. Foligno was cutting across the front and had the hard shot carom off his skate and behind goalie Josh Harding.
Foligno’s goal continued a hot stretch for the son of former Sabres captain Mike Foligno. The 20-year-old forward now has six goals and 10 points in eight games since being called up from AHL Rochester.
The Sabres rallied from a 1-0 deficit and after coming out flat in an opening period in which they were being out-shot 8-1 less than seven minutes into the game, when Kyle Brodziak set up Kampfer’s goal on a 2-on-1 break.
Buffalo’s cold start appeared to be the result of the team’s schedule, as it was playing its fourth game in six nights, and coming off a 4-1 win at the New York Rangers a night earlier.
The Sabres finally woke up to start the second period, with Vanek tying the game 72 seconds in during a scramble in front.
Harding was exceptional in the second period by stopping 16 of 17 shots he faced in the frame, and 34 overall. That included smothering Andrej Sekera’s blast from the right circle three minutes into the third and, three minutes later, getting his blocker up at the last minute to deflect Travis Turnbull’s shot just over the net.
Miller wasn’t as busy, but he was sharp when tested. His best save came 13 minutes into the frame when teammate Christian Ehrhoff carelessly carried the puck through his own crease, only to have Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu cut him off in front. Koivu got his stick on the puck and directed it toward the net, only to have Miller punch it aside with his glove.
Miller’s glove also came up big 3:20 into the third, when he got just enough of Clayton Stoner’s hard shot to have the puck carom up into the air and land on the mesh atop the net.
Miller’s stingy play has keyed the Sabres surge. He’s 13-1-3 in his past 17 games, a stretch in which he has three shutouts and allowed just 31 goals.
Notes: With Wild G Niklas Backstrom still nursing a lower body injury, the team recalled G Matt Hackett from AHL Houston. … Wild D Jared Spurgeon missed his first game with what could be a season-ending injury after he sustained a concussion in a 3-2 shootout win over Calgary on Thursday. … With Sabres rookie C Travis Turnbull scoring in a 4-1 win at the Rangers on Friday, Buffalo now has 29 players who have scored goals this season. That’s one short of the record set three times, the last in 1991-92. … Former Buffalo Bills and current Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner toured the press box with his fiancée and her high school class before the game.
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