Flyers clinch playoff berth with win over Sabres

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- The Philadelphia Flyers gained more than
just a playoff berth against the Buffalo Sabres.

After the Flyers clinched a postseason spot Friday night with a
4-2 victory over the Sabres, Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock and
his players agreed that a swagger -- especially against potential
playoff opponent Buffalo -- is also starting to emerge.

"From a confidence standpoint, this helps us," Hitchcock said.
"We know we can come in and play well in this building."

Philadelphia's last win in Buffalo was April 8, 2001. The Flyers
were 0-6-1 since then. If the teams stay in their current
positions, they would meet in the first round of the playoffs with
the Sabres holding home-ice advantage.

The Flyers avoided a season sweep, salvaging one win in four
games against the Sabres.

"This has been a difficult building for us," said Robert
Esche, who made 20 saves. "This was a step in the right direction,
especially if they are our first-round (opponent)."

Simon Gagne had a goal and two assists, and R.J. Umberger, Eric
Desjardins, and Mike Knuble also scored for the Flyers, who closed
within three points of the first-place New York Rangers in the
Atlantic Division. The Flyers and Rangers each have six games left,
with one matchup remaining on April 15.

Philadelphia also trails fourth-place Buffalo by five points in
the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

"We have to face the fact that we might be back here in a
couple of weeks," Knuble said. "This was all we could ask for."

Tim Connolly and Ales Kotalik scored for the Sabres, and Ryan
Miller made 30 saves.

The Flyers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 9:06. Umberger
scored 1:32 into the game after taking a drop pass from Jeff
Carter. Gagne made it 2-0 when he fired a slap shot from the high
slot with the puck on its end.

"The game's not won in 10 minutes, but momentum can be
earned," Miller said. "It took us a while for us to get back to
where we wanted to be."

Buffalo cut the deficit to 2-1 as Connolly scored a power-play
goal 59 seconds into the second period. He faked three Flyers
before flipping a backhand shot over Esche's shoulder.

Philadelphia reclaimed its two-goal lead at 9:07, taking a 3-1
lead as Eric Desjardins scored on a slap shot from the right point.

"We got the lead and weren't chasing the game," Hitchcock
said. "It allowed us to play our game a little bit better."

With 1:02 left in the second period, Kotalik fired a slap shot
from just inside the blue line. It was his 25th goal, tying him
with Chris Drury for the Sabres' lead and snapping his season-high,
12-game streak without a goal.

Buffalo's best chance to tie it came with about 6:30 to go in
the third period. Daniel Briere was beside the Flyers net and
failed to connect on a crossing pass.

Knuble scored an insurance goal with 4:10 to play, as Miller was
focused on Joni Pitkanen, who delivered a pass to Knuble for a shot
into an open net.

"We dug ourselves a hole, and we tried to dig ourselves out of
it," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We kept it close until late,
but they didn't give up a lot. Our passing was awful and our
shooting was worse."

Game notes
Philadelphia played without forwards Peter Forsberg and
Petr Nedved, who sat out with groin injuries. ... Ryan Potulny, the
Flyers' third-round draft pick in 2003, made his NHL debut. He
played on a line with Donald Brashear and Brian Savage. Potulny
signed with Philadelphia last week after finishing his college
career at the University of Minnesota. ... Buffalo trails Ottawa by
eight points in the Northeast Division race. ... Knuble extended
his goal streak to three games.