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Canucks-Sabres Preview

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The Buffalo Sabres haven't looked like the Eastern Conference's best team lately, but their last outing was a step in the right direction.

The Sabres try for back-to-back wins following their worst skid of the season when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Friday in the only meeting between the teams this season and a matchup of division leaders.

Buffalo (32-11-4) is scoring a league-best 3.66 goals per game this season, but it hasn't been putting up those kind of numbers so far in 2007. The Sabres have been held to three or fewer goals in seven of their nine January games, and scored a total of six during a season-high three-game losing streak from Jan. 11-15.

They matched that effort Wednesday with a 6-3 victory over Boston.

"We need that win. It was nice to get," said Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell, who is a starter for the Eastern Conference in Wednesday's All-Star game in Dallas. "It's getting back to normal, but it's not where we need to be yet."

Campbell scored the go-ahead goal and added an assist in the win. Daniel Paille scored twice in just his 10th game this season while Derek Roy and Maxim Afinogenov each had a goal and an assist.

Afinogenov is second on the team with 49 points, but hasn't recorded any in eight meetings with Vancouver - one of only two teams that has stifled him.

Despite leading the conference with 68 points, the Sabres have been mediocre on special teams. After failing to score on the power play in four of their previous five games, they finally capitalized on one of three chances Wednesday.

"There were guys diving and there were guys hugging walls to keep pucks in," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told the team's Web site. "Overall it was a greatly improved 60 minute effort for our team."

Continuing that effort may be a struggle as Vancouver (27-19-1) boasts the NHL's top penalty-killing unit. The Canucks killed off all five short-handed situations in a 2-1 win over Ottawa.

Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo - who will start for the West at the All-Star game - made 34 saves to win his third straight start, allowing just two goals in that span. His play was crucial as the Canucks were outshot 35-14, including 14-0 in the final period.

"Our (penalty-killing) was solid again tonight, but without a doubt Luongo was the difference," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "He's the guy that permitted us to win. They outplayed us totally in the third period and he shut them down."

Vancouver has won 10 of its last 11 games to build a three-point advantage over second-place Calgary in the Northwest Division.

Taylor Pyatt got the Canucks on the board early in the second period Thursday and Rory Fitzpatrick scored the go-ahead goal less than eight minutes later. Both players each of their spent their last four seasons with the Sabres.

Luongo is 3-1 with a 2.26 goals-against average in his last four meetings with Buffalo - all while with Florida.

He'll likely square off against the Eastern Conference's starter, Ryan Miller. The Sabres' netminder was in goal for a 4-1 defeat to the Canucks exactly a year ago, his only career start against them.

The Canucks have won three straight matchups between these teams. They are concluding a four-game road trip and trying to extend their season-high winning streak there to six games.

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