BUFFALO, N.Y. - Ryan Miller got the victory and the two points he was
looking for in his return - with a lot of help from Paul Gaustad.

 

 

Gaustad scored midway through the third period to
help the Buffalo Sabres hold off the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 on Friday
night 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.

 

 


But Gaustad, with the goal with 9:04 left, halted a three-goal rally by the Maple Leafs after the Sabres raced to a 4-0 lead.

 

"They smelled blood and wanted to get back on the
attack," Miller said. "We did a good job not panicking and getting
pucks to the net. We were definitely rewarded with (Gaustad's) goal."

"We've been talking about getting pucks to the net
and it paid off," Gaustad said. "We showed confidence and poise and
went back at them."


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
10th in the East, five points behind Montreal, which holds the eighth
and final playoff spot.

"You have to win every game," Sabres defenceman
Jaroslav Spacek said. "For us, every game's big. You have to play
really smart, win the battles and keep it simple, especially in the
beginning."

Buffalo came out strong against Toronto goalie
Curtis Joseph, scoring four goals on nine shots and chasing the veteran
3 1/2 minutes into the second period.


Tim Connolly scored twice, Jochen Hecht had a goal an assist and Daniel Paille also scored for Buffalo.

"You have to find a way to bring your best every
night, and tonight wasn't my night," Joseph said. "We did battle back,
no question. I thought we would make a great comeback, but it was a
little too late."

Boyd Devereaux and Matt Stajan 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.


Nikolai Kulemin also scored for Toronto.

Miller had little support on the three goals he
allowed - including Kulemin's that came during a scramble in front and
after Miller made a diving stop to foil Alexei Ponikarovsky.

"We didn't really give up a lot although they got
back in it," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "I still thought we played
our game."


There was also no question about who would play in goal for the Sabres against the Canadiens.


"Miller will play," Ruff said. "I don't think there's any secret there."

"It felt pretty good throughout the whole night,"
Miller said. "I'll throw some ice on it tonight, see how it feels and
go back at it."

Gaustad's goal, scored less than three minutes after
Stajan and Kulemin scored 43 seconds apart to cut it to 4-3, came after
a clearing attempt by Toronto's Ian White bounced off Gaustad and past
rookie backup goalie Justin Pogge.

Miller, meanwhile, showed little signs of rust or
effects of his 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 Joseph, who was yanked after Paille and Connolly scored 21 seconds apart.


Joseph earned his 351st career loss to move to within one of matching Gump Worsley's NHL record.