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Sabres challenge Red Wings to begin five-game trip

by Brian Hunter
SABRES (36-21-9) at RED WINGS (32-23-12)

Last 10: Buffalo 4-4-2; Detroit 5-3-2

Season series:
Second and final meeting of the regular season between these teams. Thomas Vanek scored twice during a four-goal second period to spark a 6-2 Buffalo win at HSBC Arena on Oct. 13. Ryan Miller stopped 23 shots.

Big story: The Sabres begin a five-game road trip by playing the Red Wings in front of a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena. The next nine days could go a long way in determining whether they win the Northeast Division and are seeded either No. 2 or 3 in the Eastern Conference playoffs or if they get caught by the Senators and perhaps have to start on the road in the first round.

Team Scope:

Sabres: Buffalo still has two games in hand on Ottawa, but missed an opportunity to increase its division lead to four points with a 3-2 home loss to Minnesota on Friday. Vanek scored a pair of third-period goals to rally the Sabres to within one, but they couldn't come up with the equalizer. Miller was rested in anticipation of starting on Saturday, and backup goalie Patrick Lalime made 30 saves. The Sabres fired 45 shots on Wild goalie Josh Harding and he turned aside 43 of them.

"He played well," Vanek said. "You've got to give him credit, but at the same time we didn't shoot it enough, myself included, early on. We went for the easy back-door plays instead of just putting it on net."

Red Wings:
With Calgary idle, Detroit gets its chance to hop back into the top eight in the Western Conference with a victory. The Red Wings have won three of four, although the loss was a difficult 4-2 decision to the Flames on Wednesday in which they gave up three goals in the third. But the Wings bounced back the following night with a 5-1 win over the Wild, led by two goals from Johan Franzen and a goal and two assists by Henrik Zetterberg.

"I thought we got started on time and played 60 minutes," coach Mike Babcock said.

Who's hot:
Vanek has four goals and an assist during a four-game points streak for the Sabres. Derek Roy has a goal and three assists during a three-game points streak, along with a plus-5 rating.

Zetterberg has five goals and eight assists in his last 10 games, giving him 56 points to tie with Pavel Datsyuk for the Red Wings' scoring lead. Datsyuk had four goals and five assists in a six-game points streak that was snapped Thursday. Nicklas Lidstrom has a goal and four assists during a four-game points streak.

Injury report:
Buffalo has been without forwards Paul Gaustad (hand) and Drew Stafford (groin). … Detroit forward Kirk Maltby will miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery.

Stat pack:
The Sabres are 10-5-2 this season against Western Conference opponents. … Franzen has six goals in nine games for the Red Wings since returning from a knee injury that cost him most of this season.

Puck drop:
Detroit forward Drew Miller, enjoying a breakout season with eight goals and 17 points, gets to try to put one past his older brother -- an intriguing sidebar to this game. The two grew up in East Lansing, Mich., and each played his collegiate hockey at Michigan State.

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