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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
Eighty games down, two to go.

Ryan Miller (Photo: Bill Wippert)
Despite being so close to the finish line of the regular season, there are still questions left to be answered.    On Thursday, the two main questions centered around the status of Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Ryan Miller and the possibility of a playoff berth for the Sabres.

Miller participated in his first full team practice since sustaining an upper body injury in last Tuesday’s game at Toronto.  He made it through the entire session, and Head Coach Lindy Ruff was pleased with what he saw.

“I thought he looked pretty good, had a good practice. He said he felt pretty good, so all that is real good,” Ruff said.   “He might be able to play.  We’re not going to make that call right now.”

4/7 - Lindy Ruff Interview

As for the playoffs, Carolina’s win over Detroit on Wednesday kept the Sabres from clinching a spot, but Buffalo still controls its own destiny.  While multiple clinching scenarios exist, a win on Friday over the Flyers would be the most definitive way for the Sabres to lock up a spot in the postseason.

“I think we battled hard for three months to put ourselves in a good position, so I think we know that if we win, we’ll be in, so that’s our focus, to win one game at a time this weekend,” said Thomas Vanek, whose hat trick led Buffalo to a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay on Tuesday.  “For us, it’s about getting the win Friday night and getting the win Saturday (at Columbus) and we’ll go from there.”

The Flyers will enter Friday’s game having already secured a postseason berth, but are battling with Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division title and can still finish anywhere from first place to fourth place in the Eastern Conference.  There is also a possibility for the Flyers and Sabres to face off in the first round, but, as a team, the Sabres are not looking that far ahead.

“Our focus is just on winning the hockey game.  It’s real tight, Carolina is playing well and obviously won their game last night, and we just have to take care of business.  We have the opportunity to really wrap our arms around this, enjoy it, and go out and play a heck of a game tomorrow night,” said Ruff.

“We want to embrace this challenge. We have a great opportunity. We’ve played 80 games to get to this point to get a win and we’re in,” said Jason Pominville.

Friday night’s game will serve as an alumni reunion for the Sabres organization as more than 75 former players will be at HSBC Arena for the regular season home finale.  As part of Fan Appreciation Night, the alumni will take part in a pregame red carpet event and on-ice ceremony.

While it is sure to be a special evening for the ex-Sabres, the current players are excited as well.

“It’s going to be great,” said Pominville.  “It’s a great idea to have them all here. Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day for all the fans that are here and all the alumni players that will be here. If we can take care of our side of business, it will make it even more enjoyable for everybody.”

“I think it’s going to be pretty special.  I think it says a lot about the organization and the community that  guys are taking time out of their schedules to come back and be a part of a ceremony like this,” said Chris Butler.

Ruff, who played over 600 games with the Sabres in addition to coaching more than 1,000 games, is looking forward to seeing all the familiar faces.

“It just brings back good memories, seeing some of these guys. There’s going to be a lot of good laughs and it will be great to see a lot of these players coming back,” Ruff said.

The Sabres organization has pulled off an impressive trifecta.  Luke Adam was named the winner of the Dudley (Red) Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie for the 2010-11 season, as voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league’s 30 member cities.   It marks the third straight season that a Sabres prospect and Portland Pirates player has won the award.  Nathan Gerbe was named the AHL’s top rookie in 2008-09 and Tyler Ennis received the same award in 2009-10.

The accomplishment becomes even more significant when you factor in that Tyler Myers, who skipped the AHL altogether, won the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year last season.

Myers (10-26-36), Ennis (19-29-48) and Gerbe (14-15-29) have all been major contributors for Buffalo this season, while Adam has also made an impact during various stints with the Sabres, recording three goals in 19 games. 
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