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Sabres open the floodgates Sabres vs. Thrashers: Offensive burst, Hasek's return charge up home crowd

Tradition has become a major part of Sabreland since Terry Pegula took over as owner. The team is welcoming back former players, wiping out anything but the vintage logo and making sure people remember they can be proud of the past.

One tradition that has never waned is the fans' celebratory goal countdown. The folks in Buffalo love urging the Sabres to score another one while simultaneously reminding the hapless opponents they've had better nights.

The HSBC Arena crowd sure had fun with the countdown Saturday.

The Sabres, shut out in their previous game, rebounded early and often against Atlanta.

They trounced the Thrashers, 8-2, allowing fans to shout "We want nine!" as their team solidified its playoff standing.

"That was probably the most energy I've felt in this building for a long time," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "When there's a game that has that many scoring chances, you score that many goals, that's great entertainment -- especially when you win."

The eighth-place Sabres moved two points ahead of Carolina with one fewer game played. They can move into a seventh-place tie with the New York Rangers today by beating Nashville at 5 p.m. in the arena.

"It feels good, especially to get shut out last game and to come out and get eight goals like we did," said defenseman Tyler Myers, who had three assists. "The true test will be to try and do the same thing [tonight]."

The victory moved the Sabres to 8-3-2 during their last 13 games and finally allowed them to dishearten an Eastern Conference rival. The Sabres lost to Toronto and Carolina during the past eight days with a chance to push their pursuers further away. They dropped Atlanta to six points back with only 10 games remaining.

"We want to make sure we put a good push here, and that's exactly the way we want to play if we want to make playoffs," Myers said.

The Sabres failed to score during Tuesday's 1-0 loss to Carolina, but they needed just 24 seconds to find the net Saturday. After a little more than 15 minutes, they'd brought the fans out of their seats three times.

They kept it up until the final minutes.

"We've got to remember how we got those goals: the hard work, the smart plays," said left wing Nathan Gerbe, who showed a little of both traits to give the Sabres a 4-2 lead midway through the second.

Gerbe scored his 10th goal of the season by not giving up despite getting dropped to the ice near the net. He took three whacks at the puck, which was trapped between the goal post and the left leg of goalie Chris Mason. Mark Mancari skated in to clear out Mason's leg, and Gerbe took one more successful shot from his belly after getting taken down.

"I was just trying to hammer it away," Gerbe said. "It was sitting there loose, so I was just trying to stand in there as long as I could."

The sellout crowd was buzzing about team legend Dominik Hasek returning to drop the ceremonial faceoff when Jason Pominville opened the scoring 24 seconds in.

"Pommer finishing on the first play of the game was very important," Ruff said. "That's under pressure saying, 'We were shut out last game. I'm not going to miss this one right off the bat.' Those plays are important."

Mancari and Rob Niedermayer also scored in the first to offset a goal by former Sabres forward Chris Thorburn. After Alexander Burmistrov pulled the Thrashers within 3-2 early in the second, the Sabres went goal crazy.

Tyler Ennis scored on a breakaway 1:50 after Gerbe whacked his shot home. Brad Boyes scored early in the third, and Niedermayer and Tim Connolly gave the remnants of the 18,690 fans more reasons to chant by scoring in the final 3:08.

Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller let in two regrettable goals but stopped a penalty shot and several breakaways to finish with 28 saves. He improved to 30-21-7, becoming just the eighth goaltender in NHL history to post six consecutive 30-goal seasons. Martin Brodeur (12), Patrick Roy (eight), Tony Esposito (seven), Jacques Plante, Marty Turco, Henrik Lundqvist and Miikka Kiprusoff (six each) were the others.

Of course, it's easy to get a win when the fans are nearing double-digits in their goal chant.

"We started the weekend off right," Myers said. "The response we had was exactly what we wanted and exactly what we needed."



>Sabres 8, Thrashers 2

SLAP SHOTS: Sabres push Atlanta further behind in standings with goal-scoring binge. Pominville scores 24 seconds in, Mancari adds first goal of season. Miller improves to 12 of 13 on penalty shots with first-period stop.

FAST FACT: Ryan Miller improved to 30-21-7 to become the eighth goaltender in history to post six consecutive 30-win seasons.

NEXT: Nashville Predators, 5 p.m. today in HSBC Arena.

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