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Canadian Press
10/16/2006 6:34:14 PM

The NHL enters its third week of the season with only three teams sporting perfect records, but it didn't come easy for any of them.

Buffalo, Dallas and Minnesota are all 5-0-0 but only seven of those 15 wins were decided in regulation time.

''We might be the best example,'' Wild GM Doug Risebrough said Monday. ''We won two in the shootout, one in overtime, and one in the last minute of regulation.''

The Sabres have three shootout victories and a one-goal nail-biter in regulation among their five wins.

''I think the gap between the top teams and the teams that didn't make it in the playoffs has been narrowed,'' Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said from Buffalo. ''You're going to have to win close games. You're going to have to take your points in overtime and win your share of shootouts.''

The Stars should know. They picked up an extra 12 points in shootout wins last season and they did it again Sunday at Anaheim.

''Those are very important points,'' Stars coach Dave Tippett said Monday. ''Sometimes they can inflate your standing a little bit but at the end of the day if you look at the parity in the league and how valuable those points are coming down the stretch, every one of those points is a very valuable extra point.''

Parity has reigned more than ever in the NHL's salary-cap era so being able to cash in early in close games could make a big difference in the standings.

''Down the stretch or near the end of the season those are points that sometimes you look back and say: `If only we could have won that extra game at the beginning of the year to give us that extra cushion,''' Sabres centre Daniel Briere said from Buffalo. ''Because we know we're going to hit some patches where even though we're playing well we may not get the wins.

''It's nice that even though we're not playing our very best hockey right now we're able to put some points in the bank.''

To no one's surprise, the speedy Sabres rule in the Eastern Conference, defeating Carolina, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit and the New York Rangers to open the season.

''Three out of our first four games were against division champions,'' said Ruff. ''You're thinking, `we're going to have our hands full here.'''

But the Sabres prevailed, including a 7-4 win over the Rangers on Saturday night.

''It's a good feeling, especially looking at the teams we played,'' said Briere, second in team scoring with seven points (2-5). ''They're all very good teams, playoff teams. So we didn't expect to start 5-0.

''The funniest thing is that we don't feel like we've played our best hockey, or had a solid 60-minute game yet.''

The Stars, meanwhile, entered the season in the shadow of more hyped division rivals Anaheim and San Jose but have opened perfectly despite only playing one home game.

''We knew it would be pretty tough slugging because of that schedule but we also knew we'd find out a lot about our team and how they'd fare in adverse situations,'' said Tippett. ''So far our guys have responded well.''

The Stars beat Colorado, New Jersey, swept a home-and-home with Los Angeles and won at Anaheim.

''We had a lot of things to prove, we've made a lot of changes,'' said Tippett. ''But I had a pretty good feeling about our team coming out of pre-season. Our group was coming together. It's nice to see the results on the board.''

The Stars put their perfect record on the line at San Jose on Tuesday night. Buffalo hosts Philadelphia on Tuesday while Minnesota next plays Wednesday at Los Angeles.

''Now we're hitting the road after starting the season with five games at home,'' Wild centre Mikko Koivu said Monday from Minneapolis. ''We have to learn to win on the road, too. But it's a good start. Winning at home, hopefully it'll be a tough place for other teams to play.''

The Wild, who missed the playoffs last season, were seen as a much-improved team after the off-season additions of Pavol Demitra, Kim Johnsson, Branko Radivojevic and Mark Parrish, in particular.


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The Buffalo Sabres starting off perfect isn't too much fo a surprise. I know they're missing Connolly, but Novotny has done a nice job of replacing him.

Although I expected the Stars and Wild to pla ywell this year, I didn't expect it to be this good for Minnesota. Not only can they keep the goals against them down, but the additions of Demitra and such will help their team a lot in the scoring department. It also give Gaborik more room out there, knowing he isn't the only one the opposition is watching closely anymore.
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