Blues maintain command in Central race

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Even though he was under the weather,
Brent Johnson got the job done.

Keith Tkachuk scored with 1:34 left in overtime and the
St. Louis Blues, with one sick goalie stepping in for another, held the
Buffalo Sabres to 17 shots in a 2-1 victory Thursday night.

Backup Fred Brathwaite was set to make only his third start in
21 games before experiencing flu-like symptoms earlier in the day.
That meant another game for Johnson, even though he wasn't feeling
well during the morning skate, so he just tried to keep things

"I didn't want to jump around and try and get too excited,''
Johnson said. "They said to me, 'Just stop the puck and don't try
to do too much.'''

The Blues' defense helped out by holding the Sabres in check.
Buffalo got off only three shots in the third period, and just five
in the second.

"The defense was unbelievable,'' Johnson said.

The Blues lead the Central Division with 66 points, two more
than the Red Wings, heading into the All-Star break.

"It's early, but we wanted to be in first place at the break,''
said Doug Weight, who set up the tying goal. "It means a lot to

The Sabres have 41 points, tied for the NHL's worst with the
Atlanta Thrashers.

"We played a pretty solid game until the third period,'' coach
Lindy Ruff said. "They started to pinch and pour it on, but Marty
(Biron) played a solid game for us.''

Dallas Drake scored the tying goal early in the third period for
St. Louis, which got off 32 shots but struggled to get the puck
past Biron. Biron has three shutouts in the last five games.

The winner came during a flurry of end-to-end action, with each
team getting chances to finish it. Tkachuk, on his way down, slid
the puck into the open left side of the net off a feed from Pavol
Demitra for his team-leading 20th goal.

"I just went to the net,'' Tkachuk said. "It was ugly, that's
all I can say.''

The goal was allowed despite protests from the Sabres that the
puck deflected off Tkachuk's skate and not his stick. Biron was
also bitter that Tkachuk got the winner after drawing an
unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the third period.

"Tkachuk, you know, he gets in there, he grinds it out, he
whines and that's about it,'' Biron said.

Drake has 12 goals, one more than all of last season, and two in
the last four games. He tied it at 7:16 of the third when he was on
the receiving end of a three-way passing play with Cory Stillman
and Weight. Weight gave Drake a cross-ice feed as he streaked
toward the net.

Weight has no goals in 28 games, but has 29 assists during the
stretch. He entered the game 10th in the NHL in scoring with 54
points, including 11 goals.

Johnson stopped the Sabres' first 11 shots before J.P. Dumont
beat him with a wrist shot from the slot at 13:53 of the second
period for the game's first goal. It was Dumont's 11th goal of the
season, but first point in eight games.

Game notes
Sabres F Chris Gratton, the team's second-leading scorer
with 38 points, missed the game with a mild concussion. He had
played in 229 consecutive games. ... Blues F Steve Dubinsky missed
the game due to illness. ... The Blues are 5-0-2-1 in their last
eight games against the Sabres. ... The Blues have outscored the
opposition 74-43 in the third period.