By JOHN WAWROW/AP Sports Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – Darren Helm scored the go-ahead goal 3:33 into the third period to inch the Detroit Red Wings closer to clinching a playoff berth with a 4-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night.
Brendan Smith, David Legwand and Pavel Datsyuk, into an empty net, also scored for the Red Wings, and Jimmy Howard made 25 saves. Detroit (38-27-14) moved within a point of securing one of the Eastern Conference’s two wild-card playoff spots, and extending its run of postseason berths to 23 straight seasons.
The win was the 414th for Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who moved one ahead of Jack Adams for first on the franchise list.
Zemgus Girgensons scored both goals for the Sabres (21-49-9), who are already guaranteed of finishing in last place once the season ends on Sunday.
The Red Wings continued their domination of Buffalo. They’ve won eight straight since a 6-2 loss on Oct. 13, 2009, and improved to 23-2-1-1 against Buffalo since March 27, 1996, according to STATS.
Detroit looked flat coming off a two-day break since a 5-3 loss at Montreal on Saturday, and wound up coming from behind after spotting the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
Helm started the play that led to his go-ahead goal by winning a faceoff to the left of the Sabres net. He drew the puck back to Kyle Quincey, who’s shot from the left point was deflected on its way to the net.
Matt Hackett made the initial stop, but was unable to control the rebound, which squirted through a crowd of players in front. Helm gathered up the loose puck and took a few steps to his right, where he snapped it into the open side before Hackett had time to recover.
Legwand then made it 3-1 to seal the win by beating Hackett through the legs with 4:14 remaining.
Girgensons made it close 2:03 later by capping a great individual rush, in which he got between two defenders and roofed a shot over Howard’s right shoulder.
The Sabres opened the scoring on Girgensons’ goal 1:31 into the second period. Cody Hodgson set it up from the right boards, where he slipped a pass into the slot and the puck banked in off Girgensons, who was battling with Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser.
Smith got that one back 11 minutes later on a transition rush, and after the Sabres were caught making a line change.
Johan Franzen led the rush up the right wing and fed a cross-ice pass to Smith, who snapped it into a wide-open side from the left circle. Sabres goalie Hackett was caught overplaying Franzen.
The Sabres squandered a chance to regain the lead later in the second period, when DeKeyser was penalized for holding and Justin Abdelkader followed him to the box 9 seconds later for delay of game.
Howard made a solid pair of stops to keep the score even. After turning aside Cody Hodgson’s hard shot from the left circle, Howard kicked out his right pad to foil Rasmus Ristolainen’s attempt to convert the rebound.
Howard also had to be sharp 2:09 into the third period, when he kicked out his right pad to get a piece of Johan Larsson’s shot on a short-handed breakaway opportunity.
NOTES: The Sabres called up G Andrey Makarov from AHL Rochester to serve as the backup. He became the eighth goalie to dress for at least one game this season, including Ryan Vinz, a Sabres HarborCenter employee who backed up Jhonas Enroth the day Ryan Miller was traded to St. Louis. … Red Wings RW Daniel Alfredsson’s assist on Smith’s goal upped career total to 712, tying him with Jean Beliveau and Scott Stevens for 48th on NHL list. … Sabres RW Chris Stewart returned after missing 16 games with a lower body injury, while D Christian Ehrhoff – nicknamed “Ear-Hoff” by his teammates – played two days after requiring numerous stitches to close a gash in his right ear, which was struck by a puck. … The Red Wings improved to 3-6 in their past nine road games and upped their season total to 20-15-4. It marks the sixth time since 2005-06 Detroit has won 20 or more away from home.