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Kulikov set to return to lineup after 12-game absence

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

NASHVILLE - The Buffalo Sabres are looking to build off back-to-back overtime victories tonight in Nashville and they'll have some extra help on the blue line in the form of Dmitry Kulikov, who is set to make his return to the lineup after a 12-game absence. 

Kulikov has been battling a lower-back injury since falling through an open bench door in a preseason game on Oct. 1. He has only played in 20 of the team's 47 games in his first season as a Sabre because of the injury that has flared up at various points throughout the season. 

Now, however, he said he's feeling as good as he has all year and will play Predators. You can catch the game on MSG with the TOPS Game Night pregame show starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on MSG. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550 with faceoff scheduled for 8 p.m.

Kulikov did not take the morning skate as a precautionary measure, but was a full participant for yesterday's practice and has been skating hard on his own in recent days.

"It wasn't a fun year for me so far, but I think I've worked hard this past couple weeks," he said. "I did everything I could to get myself back in the lineup and I'm happy where I'm at right now.

"…Hopefully it's the last time I have to rehab it. At this point, it feels better than it ever did at any point of the season."

Kulikov, who has one assist and 14 penalty minutes this season, said that he tried to play through the injury up until the point where the best case scenario was to shut it down for a little bit and allow him to recover.  

"I felt like it wasn't doing any good for me and it wasn't doing any good for the team," he said. "That's why I missed time this past couple weeks, to take time and get it better to the point where I don't have to think about it at all."


On those overtime wins

As we told you in today's Sharpen Up, the Sabres enter tonight's game with overtime wins in each of their last two games for the first time since Nov. 13 and 15, 2010. They haven't had three consecutive games decided by an overtime goal since the team went 2-0-1 in three games from Nov. 11 to 15, 2010.

And an overtime or shootout win tonight would give Buffalo three consecutive post-regulation wins for just the second time in franchise history, after the team won in overtime on Nov. 5, 10 and 11, 2006. 

Brian Duff will have more about how Buffalo will try to build off their more recent victories in our full video preview, so be sure to check back for that in a little bit. As Bylsma said this morning, "Those are two big wins for our team moving forward, but we have to verify them, so to speak, with our play here in Nashville and then to Dallas."


Starting in goal…

Robin Lehner is in net for Buffalo while Juuse Saros will go for Nashville. Lehner hasn't faced Nashville since Nov. 20, 2014, but has a 1-0-1 record and a .938 save percentage in two career appearances against the Predators.
Lehner is coming off a 36-save performance where he made, possibly, the save of the year in the NHL.

Yesterday,'s Jourdon LaBarber interviewed a few of the players on the ice at the time of the stop and wrote up a little oral history in yesterday's Ice Level Practice Report.

This is also an excuse to embed that save again:

Video: BUF@MTL: Lehner dives to make game-saving glove stop

Tonight's projected lineup

63 Tyler Ennis - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
9 Evander Kane - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
48 William Carrier - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 26 Matt Moulson

77 Dmitry Kulikov - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen 
47 Zach Bogosian - 6 Cody Franson 
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun

40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson

With Jake McCabe and Josh Gorges out of the lineup, the Sabres had to use five right-shot defensemen last game, which was a tremendously unique situation.

"I thought they did a pretty good job of stepping in in some difficult spots, playing with different guys, playing on the left side," Bylsma said. "But to get a left shot back there and add a little more left shot/right shot I think should be a big bonus for our lineup."

Bylsma said that McCabe has started rehab on his shoulder injury, but will have a better idea of how long he'll likely be out after the All-Star break this weekend. 

Gorges, meanwhile, is undergoing further evaluation on his abdominal injury. He is working out off the ice, but is not yet ready for on-ice sessions. He's missed the last eight games.

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