BUFFALO - Jochen Hecht scored twice in leading the Buffalo Sabres to a 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils in a meeting of the Eastern Conference's top two teams last night.

Rookie Daniel Paille and Ales Kotalik also scored, while Ryan Miller stopped 28 shots to help the Sabres extended their lead atop the East standings to seven points over the Devils, as well as idle Pittsburgh and Ottawa.

The Sabres (49-20-7) also moved into a tie for first place in the NHL with Nashville, and inched to within one victory of their second consecutive 50-win season.

Scott Gomez, Paul Martin and Zach Parise scored for the Devils (45-24-8), who were coming off a 3-2 victory at the New York Islanders on Tuesday. Martin Brodeur stopped 19 shots and remains three wins short of matching Bernie Parent's single-season record for victories.

Brodeur has 44 wins, tied with Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, for the NHL lead.

"They hit their shots," said Brodeur, referring to the Sabres' final three goals coming on one-timers or off rebounds. "They sat back and were a pretty patient team. They didn't give us too much and they capitalized on their opportunities."

Panthers 3, Thrashers 2

SUNRISE, Fla. - Jozef Stumpel scored the tying goal in the third period and notched the winner in the shoot-out, leading Florida over Atlanta.

Bryan Allen also scored for the Panthers, who are hanging on to slim playoff hopes.

Vyacheslav Kozlov scored twice for Atlanta.

Craig Anderson, in goal for Florida after Ed Belfour started a franchise-record 27 consecutive games, stopped 33 shots in regulation and overtime. He then stopped Kozlov and Marian Hossa in the shoot-out.

The victory was only Florida's fourth in 18 overtimes this season. The Panthers' 14 overtime losses are tied for the most in the league with the Los Angeles Kings.

Ducks 3, Blackhawks 1

CHICAGO - Rookie Dustin Penner scored two goals and Ilya Bryzgalov made 20 saves to lead Anaheim over sputtering Chicago.

Corey Perry set up both of Penner's goals as first-place Anaheim reached 102 points, four ahead of both Dallas and San Jose in the Pacific Division.

George Parros also scored for the Ducks, who won for the second time in five games after going 8-0-2 in their previous 10. Penner, third among NHL rookies with 28 goals, recorded his third two-goal game.

Radim Vrbata scored for Chicago, which lost its sixth straight.