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Flyers-Sabres Preview

GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (31-13-8) at Buffalo Sabres (32-15-3).

TIME: Thursday, 7 p.m. EST.

After a successful end to their longest road trip of the season, the Buffalo Sabres return home to face a Philadelphia Flyers team they haven't lost to at HSBC Arena in nearly five years.

The Sabres won the last three games of their six-game trip, including a 5-2 victory over Atlanta in the finale Tuesday, to finish the stretch with a 4-2 mark. It's the first time Buffalo has won three straight since a season-high seven-game run from Dec. 4-19.

"The road's been a pretty tough place for most of the teams in this league," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We just want to continue to push and continue to win these road games."

The Sabres, 17-8-1 on the road this season, dropped the second and third games of the trip to Vancouver and Calgary by a combined 8-2 score after beating Edmonton 3-1 in the opener. Buffalo then picked up wins over the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs before the victory over the Thrashers.

"We talked about our first couple of games in the West and I don't think we played the way we wanted to," said right wing Jason Pominville, who has seven goals in the last eight games. "We regrouped and really pulled things together after that."

Rookie Thomas Vanek scored his fourth goal in the last three games Tuesday, and Ryan Miller made 35 saves for his fifth win in his last six starts.

"The biggest thing on this team is we don't want to let the other guys down," Miller said. "That's the way it's got to be."

The Sabres have five wins and a tie in their last six home games against the Flyers since a 2-1 loss on April 8, 2001.

Philadelphia avoided a third straight defeat by coming back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Rangers 3-2 in overtime on Monday.

Joni Pitkanen scored twice for the Flyers, including the winner in overtime, while center Mike Richards scored the tying goal in the third period.

"I think the luck was on our side," recently acquired Petr Nedved said. "That's the way it is sometimes if you work hard for 60 minutes and overtime. It's always good when you get those goals from guys like that, so we'll take those two points and get out of here."

The Flyers have won three of their last five games since dropping a season-high four in a row.

Philadelphia continued to play without Peter Forsberg, who leads the team with 47 assists and 62 points. He's missed the last two games with a groin injury, but could return this weekend.

STANDINGS: Flyers - 70 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Sabres - 67 points, 2nd place, 5 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Simon Gagne, 34 goals; Forsberg, 47 assists and 62 points; Mike Knuble, 62 PIM. Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 20 goals; Tim Connolly, 29 assists; Chris Drury, 41 points; Andrew Peters, 58 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Flyers - Power play: 18.2 percent (56 for 307), 12th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.9 percent (239 for 299), 24th. Sabres - Power play: 21.8 percent (65 for 298), 2nd. Penalty killing: 85.6 percent (231 for 270), 3rd.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Antero Niittymaki (18-8-6, 2 SO, 2.92 GAA); Robert Esche (13-5-2, 3.07). Sabres - Miller (16-7-0, 2.25); Martin Biron (15-6-3, 2.98).

SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 1-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 19; Sabres 2-1, SO. At Philadelphia, Miller had 33 saves and Maxim Afinogenov scored in an extra shootout round to lead Buffalo.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 17-5-3 on the road; Sabres - 15-7-2 at home.

Associated Press

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