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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres returned to practice on Monday after sweeping back-to-back games over Columbus and Ottawa this weekend.  Ryan Miller posted shutouts in both games, giving him two shutouts on the season and 19 for his career. 

Miller surpassed Martin Biron for second place on the franchise’s all-time shutouts list with his 1-0 shootout blanking of Ottawa on Saturday and now trails only Dominik Hasek (55 career shutouts for Buffalo) for most shutouts by a Sabres netminder.

Miller was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on the strength of his back-to-back shutouts.

After missing two games with a lower body injury on Nov. 20 and Nov. 24, Miller seems to have returned to the form that earned him last year’s Vezina Trophy.  In four games since returning from his injury, the goaltender has posted a 3-1-0 record with a 0.99 goals against average and a .967 save percentage to go along with his two shutouts.  He has also moved into the top 10 among NHL goalies in goals against average (2.26) and save percentage (.922) on the season.  Miller credited his recent success to full-team efforts by the Sabres.

“I think it’s a case of the whole team playing better,” said Miller.  “Everybody is starting to approach a place where we’re on the same page, so I really think that goaltending is an absolute team position.”

Miller and the Sabres have not allowed a goal in the last 148:14 dating back to the second period of the Nov. 27 game at Montreal.  

“The good goalies, once they get in a groove, the puck starts looking like a basketball,” Lindy Ruff said when asked about Miller’s hot streak.  “When it’s going bad, (the puck) looks like a marble.”

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Following today’s practice, the Sabres traveled to Boston for tomorrow’s meeting with the Bruins.  It will be the second meeting of the season between the teams and the first in Boston.  The Bruins are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to Toronto on Saturday and currently sit in second place in the Northeast Division with a 14-8-3 record. 

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who leads the NHL in goals against average (1.46), save percentage (.956) and shutouts (5), will pose a challenge in the crease opposite of Miller.  The two goaltenders, who were teammates on the U.S. Olympic team earlier this year, have combined to win each of the last two Vezina Trophies.

“He’s a battler, and there’s no way you’re gonna see him sit back and just wait to play,” Miller said of his Boston counterpart.  “He’s gonna push, he’s gonna push hard.  I’m happy to see he’s healthy because he’s a great guy and if he wasn’t in my division I’d cheer for him a little harder.” 

On the injury front, forwards Tim Connolly and Rob Niedermayer, who have both missed the last five games, participated in Monday’s practice in limited roles.  Niedermayer underwent an arthroscopic knee procedure on Nov. 22.  That same day, Connolly left practice after injuring his groin.  There is no timetable on a return for either player, although Ruff said they were beginning to ramp up the intensity of Connolly’s workouts.

Drew Stafford, meanwhile, left Monday’s practice early.  The forward had returned to the lineup for Friday’s game after missing 11 straight contests with an injury.  He picked up a goal and an assist in the 5-0 win over Columbus, but was scratched Saturday at Ottawa.   

“He’s suffering a little bit upper body-wise, so I just decided to get him off the ice.  I’m going to say the likelihood right now is no,” Ruff said when asked if Stafford would be able to play tomorrow in Boston. 

Shaone Morrisonn played only 6:30 at Ottawa on Saturday due to what Ruff termed a “neck issue.”  Ruff added that Morrisonn has been examined by the team doctors and should be available to play tomorrow. 
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