Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis scored 1:50 apart in the second period and the Buffalo Sabres opened ground in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race with an 8-2 rout of the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night.
Rob Niedermayer scored twice and Ryan Miller (30-21-7) made 28 saves — and stopped Evander Kane's penalty shot — to become the eighth NHL goalie with six consecutive 30-win seasons. Mark Mancari had a goal and two assists, and Tyler Myers had three assists for eighth-place Buffalo, which moved two points ahead of idle Carolina.
Alexander Burmistrov and Chris Thorburn scored for the Thrashers, who dropped six points behind the Sabres with three weeks left in the season.
Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville added a goal and assist each, and Brad Boyes also scored for the well-rested Sabres, who came out flying in their first game since a 1-0 loss to Carolina on Tuesday. The eight goals were a season-high for Buffalo, and the Sabres' most since a 10-2 win at Edmonton on Jan. 27, 2009.
Buffalo never trailed, and Pominville made it 1-0 just 24 seconds in. Gerbe broke the game open by giving the Sabres a 4-2 lead 8:49 into the second period.
Getting the puck behind the net, he stepped in front and attempted to jam it in just inside the right post, where he was stopped by Chris Mason. Gerbe then got off two more whacks before finally scoring from his knees after being pushed down by Ron Hainsey.
Ennis then made it 5-2 by scoring on a breakaway, roofing a shot over Mason's right shoulder while being slashed from behind by Zach Bogosian. Had he not scored, Ennis would have been given a penalty shot.
Not much went right for the Thrashers, 4-2-1 in their past seven games during a bid to climb back into contention.
Kane was awarded a penalty shot seven minutes in after being hooked on a breakaway by Jordan Leopold. Kane was attempting to go from forehand to backhand, but the puck rolled off his stick and into Miller.
Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec was yanked after the first period after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Mason gave up five goals on 17 shots.
The Sabres' power play finally found life, converting 3 of 7 attempts after they were 3 of 27 in the previous eight games.
Notes: Kane is 1 for 3 on penalty shots this season. He scored against Washington in the season opener. ... Miller has allowed one goal on 13 career penalty shots. ... New Jersey's Martin Brodeur holds the NHL record with 12 consecutive 30-win seasons. ... Former Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek was greeted by rousing cheers as he walked toward center ice to drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. Hasek took part in an NHL-sponsored Willie O'Ree skills event for youngsters, which included his charitable foundation, Hasek's Heroes. ... The Sabres have a No. 7 painted behind each net in honor of Rick Martin, the former member of Buffalo's famed French Connection line. Martin died last Sunday. The Sabres will host a memorial service for him on Thursday.