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The Buffalo Sabres enter the tail-end of a home and home with the Boston Bruins Wednesday night in the midst of a three-game losing streak, their longest this season. After roaring out to a record-tying 10-0-0 start and distancing themselves from the rest of the Northeast Division, Buffalo has shown signs of mortality as the second half of the season begins.

But with lessons learned from last season and the memory of being one-game shy of the Stanley Cup Final, this Sabres squad is not overconfident and as hard times have fallen, is not losing faith that it can achieve their goal of taking it one step further than last season and bringing the franchise their first-ever Stanley Cup.

“We were able to pretty much able to pick-up where we left off last year and continue that to the half-way point and now the challenge is to continue that to the end of this season and into the playoffs,” General Manager Darcy Regier said. “We’ve been able to play through injuries and yes we’re going through a little slide right now but that’s going to happen to every team and I think our depth and attitude will help us through this time.”

Goaltender Martin Biron echoed Regier’s thoughts.

“There’s going to be times when the bounces don’t go your way and you hit some bumps, but we know from last season and the first half this season what we’re capable of,” Biron said.

Of course, with the start the Sabres had and the 11-point and eight-point cushions they have in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference respectively, this recent slide could lead some to believe that Buffalo is looking ahead to the playoffs and that a sense of complacency could be creeping in. But while Regier and the players know that’s possible, they don’t believe it has gotten to that point.

“I think we know how quickly that lead can disappear and now at this point of the season, we know that every team, especially in this division is fighting for their playoff lives,” Biron said. “We know we have to focus on those two points and not get too far ahead of ourselves. I think we’re still doing that and we’re just going through a slide that every team, no matter how good or who you are goes through.

”Are we frustrated right now? Sure. But this isn’t a case of us getting cocky or looking past anyone. It’s more like the season wearing on us a bit and each game getting harder and harder.”

Regier felt the same way and has been impressed with the way his team is taking everything in stride, yet maintaining the necessary sense of urgency.

“We’ve been able to play through injuries with the recalls we’ve made, but I think the biggest challenge we’re overcoming has been how we’ve handled and continue to handle the success we’ve had so far,” Regier said. “You get off to a good start like that and the challenge is for everyone to keep their feet on the ground. It’s to keep that sense of urgency and that high work ethic and that will be challenge until the end of the season.”

When asked how he thought the team would respond should any sense of complacency set in or any bad habits develop, Regier immediately pointed to himself and the coaching staff as those who would be responsible for correcting them.

“Those are coaching and management issues,” Regier said. “Should those type of things trickle in, we’re the ones who have to be the gatekeepers and make the necessary adjustments and key changes.”

While Regier hasn’t seen signs of that yet, he realizes that point could arrive and he is confident in his coaching staff that they can address and correct such situations.

“I think that is a risk and a greater risk with young players, which we have, but I think Lindy is good at pin-pointing that and has a great pulse on the team,” he said of coach Lindy Ruff. “If he sees that, I’m sure he will notify me and let the players know that they need to get back to playing within each game and doing the every-day things that got them to where they are now.”

Regier agreed with Biron’s earlier assessment about this current slide being nothing more than a reflection of how hard the NHL season can be and just a bump in the road.

“You look at the parity in this league and you’re not going to win every game,” Regier said. “There are no more dominant teams, but you can be a consistently successful team if you stick to your game plan and I think thus far we’ve done that.”

Who’s hot -- Marc Savard continued his hot streak for the Bruins with five points in three games, including a three-point night in a shootout loss to the Islanders Jan. 11. The veteran center, usually known for his playmaking skills, has been the team’s best goal-scorer of late too, with five goals in four games.

Last week we featured the Senators and their recent resurgence. Well, Ottawa is still surging and is now 10-3-1 in the last 14 games after going 3-0 over the past week. Despite no Jason Spezza or Mike Fisher, the Senators have now moved into second place in the Northeast Division. They’ve done so with the help of their captain Daniel Alfredsson and second-year player Chris Kelly.

Alfredsson, who had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over Washington last night, now has 11 points in his last four games. The captain had a five point night in an 8-3 win over Montreal on Saturday.

Kelly meanwhile has been a pleasant surprise at just the right time. With Fisher and Spezza out, Ottawa needed everyone to step up and Kelly has dome just that, amassing 10 points in his last four games, including four in that 8-3 win over Montreal.

Shootout summary -- The Bruins were involved in both shootouts in the Northeast Division this past week, going 1-1. On Jan. 11, Boston fell to the Islanders 5-4 in the shootout. Miroslav Satan and Jason Blake beat Tim Thomas to help give the Islanders the extra point. Marc Savard was the only Bruin to beat Rick DiPietro.

On Monday, the Bruins and Thomas redeemed themselves as Marco Sturm helped Thomas win a spectacular goaltending duel with Buffalo’s Ryan Miller. The two Michigan natives put on a goaltending clinic in regulation and overtime, as Thomas had 36 saves and Miller had 37. Thomas posted a shutout in the shootout though, making Sturm’s lamp-lighter the winning goal in a 3-2 Boston win.

Black and blue -- The Bruins lost center Wayne Primeau in that shootout win over Buffalo when the gritty center separated his shoulder in the second period. Primeau is listed as day-to-day and is shooting to return after the All-Star break. Defenseman Jason York remains out with a knee injury.

Buffalo also lost a player in the loss to Boston, when Jochen Hecht left with an undisclosed injury in the third period. He is also day-to-day with what is being listed as an upper-body injury and is also expected to be out until after the All-Star break. Forward Paul Gaustad is day-to-day with an upper-body injury as well and Tim Connolly (post-concussion syndrome), and defenseman Henrik Tallinder (ankle) are both on injured reserve.

Jason Spezza has been practicing with the Senators recently as he attempts to come back from a knee injury. Ottawa’s third leading scorer may try to play Saturday at Boston, but a post-All Star game return is more likely. Center Mike Fisher though is still out indefinitely with a knee injury.

Radek Bonk returned to the Canadiens lineup Tuesday night, but Montreal is still missing Steve Begin who is out indefinitely with a rib injury.

The Maple Leafs welcomed two players back last night as Alexei Ponikarovsky and Nik Antropov returned. The Leafs added another player to the injury list earlier in the week when defenseman Ian White went down with a shoulder injury. White is expected to miss two to three weeks. White joins a lengthy list that includes Darcy Tucker (broken foot), Andy Wozniewski (shoulder), and Michael Peca who suffered a broken fibula and torn ACL. All are out indefinitely.

The week ahead -- The rematch between the Bruins and Sabres is the only game in the Northeast tonight. Thursday though, four of the five Northeast teams will be in action.

Sidney Crosby and the Penguins invade Boston, the Canadiens are in Atlanta to face Illya Kovalchuk and the Thrashers, the Canucks continue their Northeast road trip in Ottawa, and the Maple Leafs are in Sunrise to face the Panthers.

The Canucks finish off their Northeast road trip in Buffalo on Friday.

On Saturday all Northeast teams are in action as they play their final games before the All-Star break. Two division battles highlight the night with Ottawa at Boston and Buffalo at Montreal. Meanwhile, the Leafs are in Pittsburgh to face the Pens.
 
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