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Sabres win top spot in conference

Buffalo's Thomas Vanek has Marc-Andre Fleury beat for an easy goal. (JASON COHN/REUTERS)

The Buffalo Sabres clinched the Northeast Division and wrapped up a No. 1 conference seeding for the first time in 27 years, slowing host Pittsburgh's rush to the postseason behind Thomas Vanek's 40th goal of the season in a 4-1 victory over the Penguins last night.

Vanek and Jason Pominville scored slightly more than a minute apart in the third period to put the Sabres ahead by three goals in only their fourth victory in Pittsburgh in 10 seasons.

Buffalo last won a conference title in 1979-80, and hadn't won its division in 10 years. The Sabres remain 1 point behind Detroit for the Presidents' Trophy, which goes to the team with the most points during the season.

By losing, the Penguins fell 3 points behind Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey -- a 2-1 shootout winner over Ottawa -- for the division lead and second place in the conference. Both teams have two games remaining. The Penguins also dropped 2 points behind Ottawa for fourth place in the conference.

Lightning 3, Hurricanes 2 -- Vincent Lecavalier and Dan Boyle scored just under two minutes apart early in the third period to lead host Tampa Bay past Carolina, damaging the playoff hopes of the defending Stanley Cup champs.

Lecavalier tied it at 2-all on his 52d goal at 1:20 of the third. He scored from the low slot off Vinny Prospal's deflected pass. Boyle gave the Lightning a 3-2 lead when he skated into the Carolina zone and scored from the right circle at 3:13. Eric Perrin also scored for the Lightning, who trail Southeast Division-leading Atlanta by 1 point.

Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour scored for the Hurricanes, who are poised to become the first defending champions to miss the playoffs the next season since New Jersey in 1996.

Islanders 3, Rangers 2 -- Wade Dubielewicz, playing because of Rick DiPietro's concussion, helped the host Islanders stave off playoff elimination by stopping 36 shots, plus three more in the shootout, in a win over the Rangers.

New York is 4 points behind the eighth-place Canadiens and 3 behind the Maple Leafs.

Blackhawks 3, Predators 2 -- In a shootout, Jeffrey Hamilton flipped the puck over a sprawling Chris Mason and visiting Chicago beat Nashville for its third straight victory.

The Predators have lost three straight and are 3-5-2 over their past 10 to drop out of the top of the NHL, Western Conference, and Central Division standings.

Devils 2, Senators 1 -- Martin Brodeur tied Bernie Parent's record for wins in a season and Lou Lamoriello got a win in his return to coaching in host New Jersey's shootout victory.

Brodeur got his 47th win and tied Parent's record set in 1973-74 by making 22 saves in regulation and then stopping four of six attempts in a shootout. John Madden, who scored for the Devils in regulation, ended the shootout with a backhand past Ray Emery.

Maple Leafs 3, Flyers 2 -- Bryan McCabe's power-play goal 2:18 into overtime gave Toronto a victory over visiting Philadelphia, keeping the Maple Leafs' playoff hopes alive.

The Leafs entered last night needing to win their three remaining games or risk falling too far behind eighth-place Montreal to take the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens beat Boston to remain a point ahead of Toronto.

Avalanche 4, Flames 3 -- Joe Sakic scored once and assisted on Colorado's other three goals as the Avalanche kept their remote playoff chances alive by snapping host Calgary's six-game winning streak.

Colorado pulled within 5 points of the eighth-place Flames in the Western Conference with each team having three games to play.

Canucks 4, Kings 2 -- Bryan Smolinski, Taylor Pyatt, and Matt Cooke all scored in the second period to help host Vancouver rally from a two-goal deficit to beat Los Angeles.

Red Wings 3, Blue Jackets 0 -- Dominik Hasek made 35 saves in his 76th career shutout and eighth of the season to lift host Detroit.

Minnesota 3, Edmonton 0 -- Niklas Backstrom stopped 25 shots for his fourth shutout this season, helping host Minnesota end a three-game winless skid and reach 100 points for the first time in franchise history.

Blues 5, Coyotes 2 -- Doug Weight and Petr Cajanek had a goal and an assist and visiting St. Louis beat Phoenix.

Capitals 1, Panthers 0 -- Alex Ovechkin had a goal, Olie Kolzig made 27 saves, and host Washington beat Florida.