Sens beat back Sabres

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

Senators 4, Sabres 2

Peter Schaefer liked what he saw last night.

In what was likely the Senators' biggest test of the season with first place in the Northeast Division at stake, they outdistanced the Buffalo Sabres by a large margin for much of their 4-2 win at Scotiabank Place.

The Senators jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then survived a late Buffalo flurry for the win. The victory moved the Senators into first place in the Eastern Conference and allowed them to increase their lead on the Sabres in the Northeast to three points.

"This was probably our biggest test of the season and I thought we did a good job," said Schaefer, who had a goal and an assist in the 400th game of his NHL career.

"We were missing a couple of good players and we had to step it up and see where we are at. We had to play a close, tight game, had to kill a few penalties. We were poised. I'm happy with the way we prepared for this one."

The Senators outplayed the Sabres by a large margin for two periods, getting goals from Schaefer, defenceman Zdeno Chara and Bryan Smolinski to open up that 3-0 lead.

SNAP WINNING STREAK

Maxim Afinogenov and Gatineau's Daniel Briere made it 3-2 halfway through the third as the speedy Sabres, who entered the game on an eight-game winning streak, clawed their way back.

There were several close calls after that before Chris Kelly's goal into the empty net sealed it.

In the absence of Mike Fisher, who sprained his ankle against Boston Thursday, Senators coach Bryan Murray moved Smolinski moved between Schaefer and Chris Neil to fill Fisher's spot.

"I knew I'd get some time at centre with Fish out and I tried to make the most of it," said Smolinski, whose goal came on the Senators' 30th shot to the Sabres' six at that point early in the second.

Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who faced 48 shots on the night, kept the Sabres in it.

"It was frustrating. I thought we pressed the issue too much on the power play and made (Miller) look good," said Smolinski. "A quarter of the shots were at his stomach.

"But that was probably our biggest test of this calendar year. They just keep winning and winning and you can see why. I think we caught them on a bit of an off night and we took it to them."

The Smolinski line moved the puck wonderfully with both Schaefer and Smolinski's goals coming on 2-on-1's they created with their speed. Schaefer opened the scoring at 8:57 of the first when he buried a rebound off Smolinski's shot on a their first odd-man rush.

After Chara banged in a rebound on the power play after another great Miller save on Senators winger Dany Heatley, Smolinski made it 3-0 at 7:53 of the second.

He finished off a great three-way passing play up the ice started by Neil coming out of the Ottawa zone. He hit Schaefer wide, who carried it into the Buffalo zone.

"I saw Smoke at the last second and just had to make the pass," said Schaefer.

JUMP OVER CAROLINA

Senators goaltender Ray Emery got beat to the short side by Afinogenov at 8:39 of the second on a bit of a weak goal, but Emery almost made a spectacular stop on Briere, who got his goal on a backdoor play.

The victory moved the Senators into a tie with the Carolina Hurricanes atop the Eastern Conference standings with 96 points each, but the Senators have played one less game.

The Senators jumped on their charter aircraft after last night's game and are in New Jersey to play the Devils tonight.

chris.stevenson@ott.sunpub.com


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