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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

Back-to-back games are always a challenge, but facing the top two teams in the Eastern Conference on consecutive nights doesn’t make life any easier for the Buffalo Sabres as they look to get back into the playoff race with 22 games remaining.

The Sabres open their weekend at home tomorrow against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, and then head to the Big Apple on Saturday for a tilt with the East-leading New York Rangers.

“It’s a good test,” said Lindy Ruff. “I think when Boston rolled in here last time around we knew it was going to be a test. And they had a hard game last night (in St. Louis). I thought St. Louis maybe had the edge in play a lot of the time, but they created a couple of big turnovers and were able to put the puck in the back of the net. They’ve got good size, good grit; both of them. It’s a good test for us. It’ll tell us where we’re at.”

It’s not breaking news that the Sabres will have to be at their physical best against the Bruins, similar to the way they played during the 6-0 win here on February 8. Robyn Regehr expects a different Bruins team than the one they faced that night.

“They’re a team that’s probably going to be coming back looking for a little revenge after what happened in here the last game. So we’re going to have to make sure we’re well prepared.”

Saturday’s game marks Buffalo’s first of two trips to Madison Square Garden this season. The Rangers are 19-7-2 on home ice and have allowed the second-fewest goals against (56) at home this season. Ruff knows his squad will have their hands full with King Henrik and company.

“The Rangers have proven that they’re an elite team. They’ve got a couple of high-end players there that have really played well for them in (Marian) Gaborik and (Brad) Richards. And (Henrik) Lundqvist can be a difference maker.”

Brad Boyes was the only player missing from today’s practice at First Niagara Center, and Ruff was unsure if he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow.

“He’s a little banged up, so we’ll have to see if he can play tomorrow or not.”

Ruff said Boyes has been receiving treatment for the injury that happened late in Tuesday’s win over the Islanders.

Regehr expects to be back tomorrow after he only played the first period on Monday.

“It was kind of a freak thing where I got hit in the ear with a stick from a guy that was falling. It messed up my balance, my inner ear. It felt like I was riding six-to-eight foot swells out in the middle of the ocean. But that feeling is gone and I can get back at it.”

Cody McCormick skated in Boyes’ spot on the line with Matt Ellis and Zack Kassian today, but Ruff said that’s no indication he’ll be back if Boyes can’t go.

“Cody was the first day of a non-contact sense, but he’s getting closer.”

One player a little further away is Jochen Hecht, however Ruff said he continues to recover from his post-concussion symptoms.

“He’s progressing; he was on the bike again today. His fitness rides off-ice are getting ramped up. I would see that progression leading to getting back on the ice again.”

As if the Sabres/Bruins rivalry needed anymore heat, leave it to Boston forward Brad Marchand to add more fuel to the fire.

When asked on Boston radio station WEEI this morning about coming to Buffalo, Marchand referred to the Queen City as “the worst place in the NHL … I’m not too excited to go there, but I’ll be excited to leave.”

Marchand backpedaled somewhat this afternoon following Boston’s practice at First Niagara Center, simply saying he was “joking around.”

“I heard it was a little cold in Buffalo, and I’m allergic to the cold,” said the 23-year-old who hails from Hailfax, Nova Scotia. “I never meant to offend anyone. It’s always cold and usually raining when we come here. I was just kinda playing around, so hopefully I didn’t offend anyone.”

Most of the Sabres were unaware of Marchand’s opinions until being told by reporters after practice. They resisted any attempts to respond to his verbal jabs.

“I just laugh, said Ruff. “It’s just another guy that hasn’t lived here or been here. I heard he’s a pretty funny guy.”

Angola-native Patrick Kaleta just smiled when asked if he was bothered by the remarks.

“That’s okay, I like it. I think Buffalo is the best place to play. I guess its two different ends of the spectrum, but I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else.”

Regehr said he wasn’t bothered by the comments, especially considering the source.

“Not from him, he talks a lot out there. I’m not sure where he grew up, but it’s probably not the nicest place anyway.”

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