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Panthers-Sabres Preview

GAME: Florida Panthers (15-20-5) at Buffalo Sabres (26-11-2).

TIME: Sunday, 5 p.m. EST.

Three points out of first place in the Northeast Division, the Buffalo Sabres will have to continue their push for the top spot without an offensive star.

With Daniel Briere sidelined until April, Buffalo seeks its sixth home win in a row when it faces the Florida Panthers for the third time this season.

The Sabres have totaled three goals in dropping both meetings with Florida, and Briere being out likely won't help matters. Briere, tied for second on the team with 14 goals, was diagnosed with a sports hernia and will have surgery next week. He has missed the last seven games due to discomfort related to the injury.

"It's a big hit," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, whose team will be trying to cut Ottawa's Northeast lead to one point Sunday. "He's a game-breaker and we're going to miss him."

The Sabres, though, didn't miss a beat Friday in a 4-1 win over Atlanta. Ryan Miller made 34 saves to improve to 4-0 since returning from a broken thumb and Chris Drury had a goal and an assist.

"He was solid," Ruff said of Miller. "He saw everything and was totally under control. He gave us momentum."

Miller, whose bid for his second career shutout was foiled by Marc Savard late in the third period, was sidelined 23 games. In his absence, teammate Martin Biron ran off 13 consecutive wins - a streak that ended with a Dec. 22 loss to the Panthers in the teams' last matchup.

Biron went 15-4-1 while Miller was out.

Miller had 39 saves in his only career start against Florida, a 3-2 loss Oct. 15.

The Panthers have won two in a row, both at home, to improve to 5-0-1 in their last six at Bank Atlantic Center. Their play on the road has been a different story.

Florida is 1-11-3 in its last 15 road contests and 3-14-3 on the road this season. The Panthers open a season-high five-game trip Sunday.

In the Panthers' 2-1 win over Montreal on Friday, Joe Nieuwendyk scored twice and Roberto Luongo made 27 saves, including a stop Alexei Kovalev's penalty shot with 2:57 left in the third period.

Luongo has turned aside all nine penalty shots he's faced.

"To go 9-for-9 in my career, there has to be a little luck involved," he said. "So I can thank the Lord when I make the save. I know (Kovalev) has great hands, so I just wanted to be as patient as possible on him and wait until the last second to make a play."

Olli Jokinen extended his point streak to nine games with an assist on Nieuwendyk's second-period goal. Jokinen has six goals and 15 points during that span.

Buffalo leads the series with Florida 25-17-4, including 15-5-3 at home.

STANDINGS: Panthers - 35 points, 4th place, 17 PB, Southeast Division. Sabres - 54 points, 2nd place, 3 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Panthers - Jokinen, 18 goals, 24 assists and 42 points; Chris Gratton, 59 PIM. Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 17 goals; Tim Connolly, 24 assists and 32 points; Maxim Afinogenov, 42 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Panthers - Power play: 15.2 percent (31 for 204), 22nd (tied) in NHL. Penalty killing: 82.2 percent (212 for 258), 14th (tied). Sabres - Power play: 22.3 percent (51 for 229), 3rd. Penalty killing: 84.7 percent (177 for 209), 7th.

GOALTENDERS: Panthers - Luongo (15-16-5, 2 SO, 3.05 GAA); Jamie McLennan (0-4-0, 3.10). Sabres - Miller (10-4-0, 2.39); Biron (15-5-2, 3.07).

SEASON SERIES: Panthers, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 22; Panthers, 4-1. At Sunrise, Fla., Jozef Stumpel scored twice and Luongo made 27 saves as Florida dealt Biron his first loss in 14 games and snapped the Sabres' seven-game winning streak.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Panthers - 3-14-3 on the road; Sabres - 13-5-1 at home.

Associated Press
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