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Sabres look to head into break on positive note

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

DALLAS - After three-straight victories in overtime, the Buffalo Sabres are looking to keep the winning streak alive tonight when they take on the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. 

Kyle Okposo was the overtime hero against Detroit last Friday, Zach Bogosian fired home the winner on Saturday in Montreal and Jack Eichel dazzled in his end-to-end rush that ended Tuesday's game in Nashville. 

"I'd like to say they were similar in terms of how [we played], but the three are completely different," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said of the overtime sessions.

Against Detroit, Buffalo had to kill off a penalty in the extra period and then capitalized on a power play of their own. In Montreal, the Canadiens had possession for a bulk of the overtime and Bogosian was opportunistic on Buffalo's only shot of the period. Then in Nashville, the Sabres controlled play for almost all 2:35 that was necessary and was even able to get a line change going as Eichel went off to the races to score.

The Sabres will look to build on the consistency of their play through those three games. While there have been some lulls along the way, the players are mostly happy with how things have gone. And even though they'll take two points any way they can get them, not having to worry about going to overtime tonight would be welcome. 

Video: BYLSMA: Pregame Interview

"We've got to keep playing the same way. I think we've been playing the same way for a while here, probably the last three weeks. We just have to make sure that we stay on that," Okposo said.

"This is a huge game for us and we've got to treat it as a must win. Whatever happens, we've got to stay with it and hopefully try to have a stress-free game. That'd be nice - to play well, get a couple early and keep our foot on the gas."

What's also helped in developing that consistency is the fact Buffalo has been able to field pretty much the same lineup over the last week. 

With the exception of center Johan Larsson, who is out long-term with a wrist injury, the Sabres are a healthy bunch at forward. That's allowed them to roll the same top three lines now that Tyler Ennis is back in the lineup in a top-six role.


Let's look at 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

31 Anders Nilsson 
40 Robin Lehner

Nilsson will start in goal for Buffalo. He's 8-6-4 this season and last started in that overtime win against Detroit. This is the last game before the All-Star Break - Buffalo will be back in action on Tuesday in Montreal - so with that in mind, Bylsma wanted to take this game as an opportunity to give Nilsson some playing time. 

In one change at forward from last game (healthy bodies allow for some flexibility), Carrier will draw back in and Nicolas Deslauriers will be a scratch.


Forward thinking

"We have had the three lines really be consistent over the last stretch of games and couple weeks and I think you've seen the response from those guys in terms of how they've played," Bylsma said. "We've gotten contributions from all those three lines."

Ennis has played in four of five games since returning from groin surgery, which caused him to miss 30 contests. He scored in his return on Jan. 16 - against Dallas in his first shift, no less - but is still working his way back to becoming a more impactful player.

"It's still a process for Tyler getting back in, getting back to speed. A huge part of his game is his skating and his agility and his acceleration. He's still working to gain that," Bylsma said. "…He's shown spurts and he's shown bits of excitement in what he can do in the offensive zone and playing with it. You've also seen he's not quite up to 100 percent with his skating and that will be a process for him."

Okposo has enjoyed playing with Ennis so far and looks forward to creating more opportunities as a line.

"Enzo's a very creative player. He's a special player," Okposo said. "We're getting a feel for each other still, but he's easy to play with and he's a guy that has tremendous skill so it's always fun to see what he's going to do with the puck."

Meanwhile, Brian Duff spoke with Zemgus Girgensons about how his line has been able to be so productive as of late. More on that in today's game preview, which will be on the way shortly. 


On the back end

Kulikov returned to the lineup Tuesday in Nashville after missing 12 games due to a lingering lower-back injury that had plagued him since his first preseason game this year. He lined up next to Rasmus Ristolainen on the top pair and contributed an even rating in 24:11 of action. 

Early on, he took a couple big hits along the boards, but Bylsma saw him settle in as the game wore on.

"[With a] couple of puck plays in that first period, he was adjusting to the speed of the game and getting back in there," he said. "I thought his second half of the game was almost like he'd not missed a beat. It's a big add for us, adding him back in there."


Broadcast info

It's an 8:30 p.m. ET start tonight from Dallas. Join us for the TOPS Game Night pregame show starting at 8 on MSG. RJ and Rayzor have the call and you can also listen live on WGR 550. 

Stick with after the game for full highlights and reaction from the locker room. 

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