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GAME: Boston Bruins (33-16-14-7) at Buffalo Sabres (31-31-6-1).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

Right up to the trade deadline, the Buffalo Sabres were unsure if they were going to be buyers or sellers.

It appears the decision they made was the right one.

The Sabres will try to close the gap on eighth place in the Eastern Conference when they take on the visiting Boston Bruins.

Buffalo suddenly finds itself just five points behind the New York Islanders in the race for the final postseason berth in the East with 13 games to play. The Sabres have won three of four, including a 6-0 victory over Washington on Wednesday.

"Inside the dressing room and in the hockey department, we believe very strongly that we're still in this thing, as evidenced by the trades," general manager Darcy Regier told The Buffalo News. "We could have very easily sold. We believe we can make it."

They can as long as the Islanders continue their free fall. Once challenging Montreal for seventh place, the Islanders are winless in five (0-2-1-2) since a 4-2 victory in Buffalo on Feb. 27.

New York's slide had to play a big role in Buffalo's decision to take Miroslav Satan off the trading block. The Sabres decided to keep their leading goal scorer and then went out and traded for veteran forward Mike Grier and veteran defensemen Jeff Jillson and Brad Brown just before the deadline.

The moves paid immediate dividends Wednesday as Grier finished with a goal and two assists, while Jillson and Brown had a combined plus-5 rating and one assist in their Buffalo debuts.

Grier, who didn't have more than two points in 67 games this season with Washington, clicked immediately with new linemates Jochen Hecht and Chris Drury as the line accounted for three goals and five assists.

The Bruins are unbeaten in three (2-0-1) games, and have just one loss in their last five (3-1-1).

Joe Thornton has five goals in four games, including two in Boston's 3-2 win over Nashville on Tuesday, which kept the Bruins one point behind Northeast Division co-leaders Ottawa and Toronto.

"I thought he played one of his best games of the year tonight," Bruins coach Mike Sullivan said of Thornton, who has 17 multipoint games this season.

"Certainly, with that type of effort and that type of commitment that he showed to the rest of our team I think speaks volumes about how he's grown as a player. That's the type of player I think he wants to be, and we want him to be down the stretch here."

STANDINGS: Bruins - 87 points, 3rd place, 1 PB, Northeast Division. Sabres - 69 points, 5th place, 19 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Bruins - Glen Murray, 28 goals; Thornton, 46 assists and 67 points; Doug Doull, 117 PIM. Sabres - Satan, 26 goals; Daniel Briere, 29 assists and 52 points; Andrew Peters, 119 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through March 9): Bruins - Power play: 16.4 percent (41 for 250), 13th (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (235 for 282), 21st. Sabres - Power play: 15.9 percent (47 for 296), 16th. Penalty killing: 84.6 percent (248 for 293), 10th.

GOALTENDERS: Bruins - Andrew Raycroft (23-16-8, 3 SO, 1.99 GAA); Felix Potvin (10-7-6, 4, 2.57). Sabres - Martin Biron (20-14-4, 1, 2.64); Mika Noronen (11-15-2, 2, 2.47).

SEASON SERIES: Bruins, 2-1.

LAST MEETING: Feb. 5; Bruins, 6-2. At Buffalo, Thornton had a goal and assist, and recorded his 400th career point. P.J. Axelsson added a goal and two assists for Boston.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bruins - 19-7-6-5 on the road; Sabres - 18-12-4-1 at home.

Associated Press
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