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Thrashers-Sabres Preview

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GAME: Atlanta Thrashers (26-26-6) at Buffalo Sabres (36-15-5).

TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Buffalo Sabres' chances of winning the Northeast Division may have become considerably less difficult over the Olympic break.

One of the hottest teams in the league going into the two-week layoff, the Sabres look for their fifth straight win over the Atlanta Thrashers when the teams resume play at HSBC Arena.

Buffalo is two points behind Northeast Division-leading Ottawa, but the Senators will be without star goaltender Dominik Hasek indefinitely. The two-time Hart and six-time Vezina Trophy winner strained an adductor muscle playing for the Czech Republic in the Olympics, leaving rookies Ray Emery and Billy Thompson in net for the Senators.

Buffalo and Ottawa meet four more times in the regular season.

The Sabres have won seven of their last nine, with one loss coming in overtime and the other in a shootout.

Buffalo's Ryan Miller, snubbed by Thrashers general manager Don Waddell for inclusion on the U.S. Olympic team, will likely be in net looking to bounce back from a loss in his last outing. Miller made 30 saves Feb. 12, but allowed Eric Staal's decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 defeat to Eastern Conference-leading Carolina.

"We come into a building where they don't play the night before, and we play twice in less that 24 hours," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "I really thought our club did a hell of a job."

Buffalo defeated Florida 5-3 the previous night.

Atlanta is tied with Boston for 10th place in the East. The Thrashers, who will be playing the fourth of five straight road games, defeated Ottawa 2-1 on Feb. 9 before beating Montreal by the same score two nights later in a shootout.

Slava Kozlov scored the lone shootout goal in the win over Montreal, backhanding the puck between the legs of Canadiens rookie Cristobal Huet.

"When I was a kid I watched hockey and (Russian star Vladimir Krutov) did that move," Kozlov said. "You can't use that move against every goalie ... I was a bit nervous because I missed my first two shootout attempts and that was my third opportunity.

"That was a last-minute decision. It looked easy but I was a little bit nervous."

Thrashers leading scorer Ilya Kovalchuk recorded a single-game Olympic-record four goals for Russia in a 9-2 win over Latvia on Feb. 19.

STANDINGS: Thrashers - 58 points, 3rd place, 24 PB, Southeast Division. Sabres - 77 points, 2nd place, 2 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Thrashers - Kovalchuk, 37 goals; Marc Savard, 48 assists; Kovalchuk and Savard, 72 points; Andy Sutton, 104 PIM. Sabres - Ales Kotalik, 21 goals and 44 points; Teppo Numminen, 30 assists; Andrew Peters, 63 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Thrashers - Power play: 19.5 percent (77 for 394), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 79.2 percent (286 for 361), 26th. Sabres - Power play: 21.0 percent (70 for 334), 2nd. Penalty killing: 86.8 percent (256 for 295), 2nd.

GOALTENDERS: Thrashers - Kari Lehtonen (9-9-0, 1 SO, 2.85 GAA); Mike Dunham (4-4-1, 1, 2.79). Sabres - Miller (20-7-2, 2.25); Martin Biron (15-6-3, 2.98).

SEASON SERIES: Sabres, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Jan. 31; Sabres, 5-2. At Atlanta, Miller made 35 saves and rookie Jason Pominville's short-handed goal in the second period put the Sabres ahead for good.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Thrashers - 12-15-2 on the road; Sabres - 18-7-3 at home.

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