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Stafford sparks Sabres to 4-2 win over Panthers

Jordan Leopold and Drew Stafford scored 13 seconds apart in the third period and the Buffalo Sabres moved closer to securing a playoff spot with a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

Stafford had two goals and an assist, while Pominville had a goal and assist for Buffalo, which won back-to-back games for the first time in three weeks. Ryan Miller was sharp in making 22 saves as the eighth-place Sabres (37-28-9) moved within two points of the idle New York Rangers.

Buffalo remained three points ahead of Carolina for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sergei Samsonov and Evgeny Dadonov scored for the 14th-place Panthers (29-36-10), who were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

With the game tied at 1, Stafford scored the go-ahead goal 2:33 into the second period to complete a nifty three-way passing play. After gaining the Panthers zone, Stafford fed Tyler Ennis, who then dropped a pass to Brad Boyes, who drove to the left corner before sending a pass in front where Stafford redirected just inside the far post.

The Sabres then broke the game open midway through the third. Leopold deflected in Pominville's shot through a crowd 9:43 in for a power-play goal.

Stafford then sealed it by snapping a shot through Tomas Vokoun's legs from the left side after the goalie made a brilliant save with his left skate to stop Tyler Ennis' shot from right circle.

Panthers' forward David Booth did not return after he was struck in the face by Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers' dump-in along the boards in the Panthers zone with 2:31 left in the first period. Booth lay on the ice for a minute, before getting up on his own and skating to the bench while holding his jaw.

The Panthers did not have an immediate update on the player's status.

The only bright side for Florida was the team finally scored a goal after being shut out their past two games. Samsonov's goal scored 4:01 in to tie the game at 1 ended the Panthers scoring drought at 135:35 seconds.

Miller shut the door after that, stopping the next 20 shots he faced before Dadonov scored a mean-nothing goal with 3 seconds left.

Miller was particularly sharp late in the second period when the Panthers had four solid scoring chances in final three minutes. First he got enough of a piece of Stephen Weiss' shot from the blue line to steer it just wide of the right post. Some 30 seconds later, Miller got across to left to lunge out and snag Dmitry Kulikov, who was set up alone in the right circle. Miller also kicked out his right pad to foil Ryan Carter, who was set up in front.

He was tested again 6:15 into the third on the Panthers' first shot on net, getting his right arm out to stop a shot from Weiss, who was set up alone in front by Niclas Bergfors.

NOTES: Weiss returned after missing two games with a leg injury. It was his 553rd career game with Florida, passing Scott Mellanby to move into fourth place on the team list. ... The Panthers recalled LW Patrick Rissmiller from AHL Rochester to fill in after C Shawn Matthias and RW Jack Skille were scratched. Both players had just returned this week after missing extensive stretches with ankle injuries. ... The Sabres opened 18th of an NHL-high 22 sets of games on consecutive nights. They're back at home Saturday against New Jersey. Of their eight remaining games, four are at home, and four on the road. ... Samsonov's goal 4:01 into the game ended the Panthers scoring drought at 135:35.