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Sabres look ahead to important 2-game set with Bruins

Lehner absent from practice, Ennis nearing return

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

There have been a handful of long winning streaks in the NHL during the first half of this season, none of which are more prominent than the one currently being enjoyed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus extended its streak to 13 games with a 4-3 win over Boston on Tuesday, a game in which captain Nick Foligno scored the winning goal in the third period.

Before the game on Tuesday - back when the Columbus streak was at a mere 12 games - Buffalo Sabres forward Marcus Foligno had a chance to catch up with his older brother during the holiday break. Naturally, the topic of the Blue Jackets' success came up.

Video: Sabres in :90 (12/28/16)

"I picked his brain a little bit," Foligno said following practice for the Sabres at KeyBank Center on Wednesday. "They're having fun. Obviously winning is fun and the room's loose there. They're not gripping the sticks there, that's why I think they're scoring so many goals. Things are clicking right now, they're enjoying each other and they're really one as a team. 

"Talking to him as a captain, he just said you really just got to erase the game that you just played from the memory and that's what they've been doing for the last 13."

While no team can be expected to win 13 games in a row, a winning streak beyond three games is something that has eluded the Sabres this season and would go a long way in their efforts to make up ground in the Atlantic Division. Thanks to Columbus' win over Boston and Buffalo's win over Detroit on Tuesday, the Sabres now trail the third-place Bruins by six points with three games in hand.

It's hard to imagine a better time to make up that ground than right now. The Sabres and Bruins meet for the final two times this season during an upcoming home-and-home set that begins at KeyBank Center on Thursday night.

"You're staring at Boston for a home-and-home and they're within earshot," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "You have a chance of sweeping these two games and gaining four points on them and putting yourself right near them, right next to them in the standings."

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

Both Bylsma and Foligno emphasized the importance of a strong start in front of their home crowd on Thursday. After having trailed following the first period in their last six games, Buffalo jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes of their game in Detroit on Tuesday and carried that momentum to a 4-3 win. Their record when leading after the first period this season is 7-0-3.

"We all have to be on the same page for these two games," Foligno said. "It's obviously something that we've got to do better at our home rink here is get the fans into it, get our game established early. We really haven't been doing great here at home and that's definitely on us. It's something that we need to take pride in."

Other than slow starts, Bylsma said the Sabres' struggles in shootouts are what's separated them from having long winning streaks this season. He pointed to their back-to-back shootout losses on the road against Carolina and Florida as an example. Had the Sabres won those shootouts, they would've been on a four-game winning streak. Instead, with regulation losses in their next two games, those one-point efforts became the beginning of a four-game winless streak.

The current streaks in the NHL back up Bylsma's claim. The Blue Jackets have won two shootouts and another game in overtime during their current streak, while the Minnesota Wild's current 11-game win streak began with back-to-back overtime and shootout victories. 

"I think you look at our season, you've probably got to win a shootout. You've probably got to win an overtime game to keep a streak going," Bylsma said. "I think every team that puts four and five and six together, they win some games going away and also they win in a shootout. They tie a game late, get an overtime victory and continue their streak going that way."

"That's something we haven't been able to do … We're going to have to probably win some games a couple different ways, a lot of different ways to get going on a streak."


Medical report

Robin Lehner, Dmitry Kulikov and Jake McCabe were all absent from practice on Tuesday for maintenance days, but Bylsma said he expects all three to be ready to play against Boston on Thursday. Lehner's absence was due to a checkup on his throat after Zach Bogosian's stick caught him beneath the mask in Detroit, leaving a noticeable welt. 

"He was checked out last night after the game with the stick to the neck and you saw the abrasion," Bylsma said. "He is going to see the doctor this morning just as more of a formality but that's why he wasn't with us this morning."

Cody Franson, who has missed the last three games with what Bylsma referred to as a "middle-body" injury, did return to practice and said he felt good skating. Bylsma said that Franson is a possibility to return to the lineup Thursday.

Meanwhile, Tyler Ennis continues to skate on his own with hopes of returning to practice with the team in the next 7-10 days, Bylsma said. Ennis has missed the last 22 games with a groin injury. 


Lines at practice

82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 26 Matt Moulson
9 Evander Kane - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart - 21 Kyle Okposo
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 27 Derek Grant - 48 William Carrier

Defensemen: 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 4 Josh Gorges, 47 Zach Bogosian, 6 Cody Franson, 41 Justin Falk

31 Anders Nilsson

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