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Sabres-Wild Preview

GAME: Buffalo Sabres (18-10-1) at Minnesota Wild (11-13-4).

TIME: Sunday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Buffalo Sabres just seem to get more confident as the season goes on.

One of the hottest teams in the league, the Sabres go for their eighth win in nine games as they visit the struggling Minnesota Wild.

The teams have split six games all time with Buffalo winning two of three in Minnesota.

The Sabres' recent surge - including a 3-2 overtime win Thursday over the Anaheim Mighty Ducks - has pushed Buffalo into second place in the Northeast Division.

Ales Kotalik tied the game at 2-2 at 16:33 of the third period and Maxim Afinogenov scored 2:11 into overtime for the win.

"We're just rolling four lines, playing good defensively and getting good goaltending," said rookie Thomas Vanek, who scored 57 goals in two seasons at the University of Minnesota. "We're just grinding out wins right now."

It was the fourth game the Sabres have won when trailing after two periods. They also improved to 5-1 in overtime.

The Sabres may have center Daniel Briere back in the lineup after missing seven games with an abdominal strain.

"He's indicated to me he would like to play," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "That doesn't surprise me. He's got the taste of it."

The Wild, meanwhile, ended a five-game road trip with a 3-2 loss Saturday to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

Todd White and Nick Schultz scored for the Wild, but goaltender Manny Fernandez gave up the game-winning goal to Branko Radivojevic with 53 seconds to play.

"It's tough when you don't get the bounces," Schultz said.

Fernandez is 3-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in three career games against the Sabres.

The Wild finished their road trip 1-4 and will play five of their next six at home, where they have not fared much better.

Minnesota has alternated losses and wins in its last seven games and has not won two straight at the Xcel Energy Center since Oct. 16-19.

STANDINGS (through Dec. 10): Sabres - 37 points, 2nd place, 7 PB, Northeast Division. Wild - 26 points, 5th place, 14 PB, Northwest Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Sabres - Kotalik, 14 goals; Teppo Numminen, 19 assists; Tim Connolly, 22 points; Afinogenov, 28 PIM. Wild - Brian Rolston, 11 goals; Pierre-Marc Bouchard, 15 assists; Bouchard and Rolston, 22 points; Derek Boogaard, 61 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Dec. 10): Sabres - Power play: 21.7 percent (37 for 170), 2nd in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.2 percent (124 for 149), 10th. Wild - Power play: 18.5 percent (28 for 151), 12th. Penalty killing: 88.6 percent (140 for 158), 1st.

GOALTENDERS: Sabres - Martin Biron (11-4-1, 0 SO, 3.12 GAA); Mika Noronen (1-2-0, 0, 4.26). Wild - Fernandez (8-3-3, 1, 1.87); Dwayne Roloson (3-9-1, 1, 2.52).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Wild, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Dec. 13, 2003; Wild, 3-2. At St. Paul, Minn., Jim Dowd's slap shot with 24.3 seconds left deflected off goaltender Mika Noronen for the game-winner.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Sabres - 9-5-0 on the road; Wild - 7-4-1 at home.

Associated Press
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