Buffalo Sabres former goalie Dominik Hasek waves to the fans during a pre-game ceremony before an NHL hockey game against the Atlanta Thrashers in Buffalo, N.Y., Saturday, March 19, 2011. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Diminutive forward Nathan Gerbe's perseverance led the way in the Buffalo Sabres' highest-scoring game of the season.
Gerbe inspired a five-goal surge by jamming in a shot on his fourth attempt in the Sabres' 8-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night.
The rout boosted the Sabres' offensive confidence as much as it allowed Buffalo to create space in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
"I lost count there. I was just trying to hammer it away and luckily it found the hole," said Gerbe, who scored from his knees to put Buffalo ahead 4-2 at 8:49 of the second period.
"It gives you confidence, but again, we've got to remember why we got those goals: the hard work," said the five-foot-five Gerbe, the Sabres' shortest player. "That's what stood out in my mind."
Gerbe's effort wasn't lost on Tyler Ennis, who scored on a breakaway 1:50 later.
"That was a big goal. Gerbs did a good job of taking it to the net and whacking away," Ennis said. "Then I was lucky enough to get that breakaway and put it in."
Rob Niedermayer scored twice and Ryan Miller (30-21-7) made 28 saves—and stopped Evander Kane's penalty shot—to become the eighth NHL goalie with six consecutive 30-win seasons. Mark Mancari had a goal and two assists, and Tyler Myers had three assists for eighth-place Buffalo, which moved two points ahead of the idle Carolina Hurricanes.
The Sabres bounced back from a 1-0 loss to the Hurricanes on Tuesday by scoring the most goals since a 10-2 win at Edmonton on Jan. 27, 2009.
The Thrashers took a demoralizing step back, dropping six points behind Buffalo. They've fallen to 11th place and had their momentum stunted after going 4-1-1 in their previous six games.
Alexander Burmistrov and Chris Thorburn scored for the Thrashers.
"We pitched a stinker," Atlanta forward Anthony Stewart said. "We can't really dwell on it and let it be the turning point of our season. Every game's a must-win, so we'll regroup."
The Thrashers (30-30-12) are running out of time. They have nine games left and three teams to catch if they intend to make the playoffs for the second time in their 11 NHL seasons.
The Sabres are still rolling in what's been a remarkable second-half turnaround. They improved to 20-10-4 since Jan. 1, and are 8-3-2 since Terry Pegula completed his purchase of the team.
"We've been playing some pretty good hockey for a little while, and this team doesn't get frustrated," Niedermayer said. "We went through some tough times, but I think you kind of needed that to grow as a team. You've just got to be playing good hockey at the right time."
Tim Connolly and Jason Pominville added a goal and assist each, and Brad Boyes also scored in a game Buffalo never trailed after Pominville opened the scoring 24 seconds in.
"We allowed our frustration to take control of the game," Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. "We have to play with pride. We lost our pride and our compete."
Not much went right for the Thrashers.
Kane was awarded a penalty shot seven minutes in after being hooked on a breakaway by Jordan Leopold. Kane was attempting to go from forehand to backhand, but the puck rolled off his stick and into Miller.
Atlanta's Ondrej Pavelec was yanked after the first period after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Chris Mason gave up five goals on 17 shots.
The Sabres' power play found life, converting 3-of-7 attempts after they were 3-of-27 in the previous eight games.
Notes: Kane is 1-for-3 on penalty shots this season. He scored against Washington in the season opener. ... Miller has allowed one goal on 13 career penalty shots. ... New Jersey's Martin Brodeur holds the NHL record with 12 consecutive 30-win seasons. ... Former Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek was greeted by rousing cheers as he walked toward centre ice to drop the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. Hasek took part in an NHL-sponsored Willie O'Ree skills event for youngsters, which included his charitable foundation, Hasek's Heroes. ... The Sabres have a No. 7 painted behind each net in honour of Rick Martin, the former member of Buffalo's famed French Connection line. Martin died last Sunday. The Sabres will host a memorial service for him on Thursday.