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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
It’s been a while since the Sabres have had any sort of extended break between games.

Buffalo hosted Carolina on Tuesday and won’t play again until Atlanta visits HSBC Arena on Saturday.  The three-day break between games is the longest the team has had since the All-Star break when they had an unusually long stretch of nine days between games.  Since then, they’ve played 21 games in 40 days.

The message is we’ve put together a good run and now, really, this last stretch is the type of run where we’ve got to put together a good segment of hockey." - Head Coach Lindy Ruff
After giving the players the day off on Wednesday, Lindy Ruff put the team through an hour-long practice on Thursday and delivered a message about the final 12-game stretch.

“The message is we’ve put together a good run and now, really, this last stretch is the type of run where we’ve got to put together a good segment of hockey,” Ruff said.  “We missed some good opportunities in the Carolina game, we missed some good opportunities in the Toronto game.  We’re playing hard, we just didn’t capitalize on some great offensive situations that put us behind the eight ball in the Carolina game.”

In the losses to Toronto (Mar. 12) and Carolina (Mar. 15), the Sabres scored just three goals, all against Toronto, despite recording a total of 82 shots on goal in the two games.  Sandwiched between those losses was a 6-4 win over Ottawa on Mar. 13.

Thomas Vanek
Vanek Interview
Thomas Vanek had one of the great offensive opportunities in the 1-0 loss to Carolina on Tuesday that Ruff referred to when he put the puck through the legs of a Hurricanes’ defensemen and came in alone on goaltender Cam Ward, but shot the rolling puck just wide.  On Thursday, Vanek talked about trying to take advantage of the time between games as they enter the final stretch of the regular season.

“We had a tough stretch here and we put ourselves in a good spot and this is really our last chance to kind of rejuvenate, get away from the rink which we did yesterday.  Now we’ve got two good days of practice which we haven’t had in a long time, so I think it’s good for us,” Vanek said.

Buffalo’s final 12 games – seven of which are at home – will be played over a three-week period.  During that span, the Sabres will play five sets of back-to-back games, meaning 10 of their final 12 games will be played as part of a back-to-back set.

Sekera (Photo: Bill Wippert)
Since Jordan Leopold returned from a three-game injury absence back on March 5, giving the team seven healthy defensemen, Ruff has rotated different blue liners out of the lineup.  In the last seven games, Mike Weber was scratched three times, Chris Butler was scratched twice, although one of those games was due to an upper-body injury, and Shaone Morrisonn and Steve Montador were each held out for one game.

Ruff was asked Thursday whether he planned to continue with a rotation of if he wanted to settle on the same six defensemen to use every game.

“I would hope that we could have six,” he said.  “It’s tough.  You’d like to maintain, but if somebody is playing poorly, you’re just looking to try to dress your best six to give you the best chance to win a game.”

Over the last 10 games, Andrej Sekera and Tyler Myers are the only Buffalo defensemen who have not missed a game.  Sekera was scratched for two games in late February, but returned to score 13 points (2-11-13) in 10 games.  Myers, meanwhile, has not missed a game since Dec. 27-28 when he had the flu.

Jochen Hecht, Patrick Kaleta and Patrick Lalime were the only players not to practice on Thursday.  Ruff said that Hecht, who has missed five of the last seven games with an upper body injury, is day-to-day.  Kaleta (bone bruise in leg) and Lalime (knee) are both improving, but not ready to return yet, according to Ruff.

The Sabres had their official 2010-11 team photo taken on the ice before practice on Thursday and wore their alternate, 40th anniversary jerseys for it.  In one of the photos, the team included a Rick Martin jersey in the shot.

"It was a classy move just to remember Rico, and really in spirit have him there in that photo," said Ruff.
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