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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo Sabres' Thomas Vanek, left, from Austria, celebrates teammate Tim Connolly's goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Sunday, March 21, 2010. Hurricanes goalie Justin Peters, lower right, Brett Carson (27) and Jay Harrison, rear, look on. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Monday’s day off isn’t the only reason the Buffalo Sabres are feeling refreshed.

Gaining seven out of a possible 10 points in their recent five-game road stint has served to not only give the team some much needed breathing room in the Northeast Division – it has also restored some confidence.

“I feel a lot better,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said. “We locked into a pretty good style, we played real hard and we got rewarded for it.”

Buffalo is now ahead of second-place Ottawa by seven points (with two games at hand) and getting closer to clinching a playoff spot with 11 games remaining in the season.

“You’ve got to give the players credit,” Ruff said. “We talked about different situations, we talked about the starts, we changed a few things up and said we were going to keep working on the power play… Now we’re starting to execute.”

Tinkering with some of the details has seemed to work. Ruff switched some of the lines, including pairing Tim Kennedy with longtime partners Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek.

The result has been three consecutive wins and plenty of offense. The Sabres have scored a total of 14 goals in that span.

“[It was] just a hunch,” Ruff said. “[I’m] pleased at the same time that it has worked out. [Kennedy’s] creativity, he’s got some newfound confidence with it. That line has given us some offense. At the same time defensively he’s been a pretty strong player for us. He was always a winger so it was an easy decision.”

While the practice of changing lines has been a common one, Ruff also opted for a more unconventional method of attack in taking away some of the team’s practice time.

Beginning during Thursday’s 6-2 win in Tampa Bay, Ruff not only dismissed the morning skate, he also held his players in the locker room for three minutes while the Lightning took to the ice for warm-ups.

“Part of it was I was trying to create a sense of urgency. If you take away warm-up time, a player knows before he goes out that he’s got to be ready,” Ruff said. “Part of not skating is that you’ve got the rest of the day to think about, ‘well I didn’t skate this morning, I’ve got to be ready to play.’

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“It’s the time of year where I really don’t know what benefit the morning skate has when you go out for 15 minutes. Sometimes it just makes it a real long day. So our focus was just on having a video meeting in the morning and focusing on the things that are important.”

The Sabres will continue to be challenged this week with a three-game homestand, including facing two division opponents in Montreal and Ottawa. Ruff said his focus is on keeping the momentum going and not losing any ground.

“It’s just as important as last week,” he said. “We went on the road and we wanted to create a little bit of space. Now we’re back home and we don’t want to take last week for granted. We worked hard to get a little distance between us and we’ll take it one game at a time, focus in on Montreal and try to take care of our part here at home, because we know that past this week we’re back on the road.

“In those last 10 games and you see the utmost of desperation from a lot of teams. It’s your last shot at a playoff spot or your last shot to move up. In our case we want to try and move up in the standings.”
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