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The hope was this mundane trend had passed with Christmas. The hope was that Sunday night's drilling of the Quebec Nordiques had launched the Buffalo Sabres toward better results than these monotonous home-ice ties.

Well, keep the light on.

The Sabres returned from the Christmas break Wednesday night and played just well enough to deadlock the
Sabres notebook / D2

Boston Bruins, 3-3, before a sellout crowd of 16,325 at Memorial Auditorium.

This was not a case of the Sabres merely playing for the tie. They seemed to be begging for it.

Three times the Sabres went ultra-conservative after rebounding from a one-goal deficit. Checking center Christian Ruuttu received so much ice time you would have thought he had the career scoring statistics of Pierre Turgeon and Dale Hawerchuk combined.

The shot counter reflected the Sabres' passive approach. Buffalo went more than eight minutes without a shot on goal during a span that began late in the first period and carried into the second.

During the third period and overtime, a 25-minute clip, the Sabres had all of two shots. Predictably, Dave Snuggerud, Ruuttu's checking-line mate, had one of them.

It's no wonder that Buffalo leads the league with eight ties, six of them coming at the Aud. No wonder, either, that Boston, always playing on its terms, has a six-game Aud unbeaten streak (4-0-2).

"We certainly could have had a better fate," lamented Boston coach Mike Milbury. "We had plenty of shots and opportunities, but not enough production."

Meanwhile, the Sabres had plenty of everything in reserve. The line of Hawerchuk, Rick Vaive and Lou Franceschetti -- one of the team's more potent offensive combinations -- played about 12 minutes, including a cameo appearance during overtime.

Presumably, the Sabres acquired Hawerchuk to force the opposition to match lines, a tactic that Buffalo could not employ the last few seasons.

"It was supposed to be," Vaive said. "You tell me. That's what happens when you got as many good players as we have, I guess. There's four lines and trying to get everybody ice time is kind of difficult.

"It's frustrating at times, but you have to realize we're all in this together and everybody's doing his best to win."

If inconsistent ice time has frustrated some players, then inconsistent effort surely has frustrated the fans. Once again, the Sabres came out for a game -- a big game, a divisional game -- with their minds in la-la land.

"I think we have a problem with guys getting up for the game," said Robbie Ray. "You can more or less say you're ready, but you're not really ready deep down. Some of us might not be totally mentally ready as soon as we step on the ice. It's taking half a period before everybody gets going and realizes we got a game here."

The Sabres have five wins in 17 home games (5-6-6) and have held a two-goal lead only once in their last nine Aud starts. They have not led Boston in either of their last two Aud matchups.

The Bruins took a 1-0 lead at 4:42 of the first period when Valdimir Ruzicka beat Clint Malarchuk off a breakaway. Mike Hartman retaliated at 6:31, poking a puck underneath goaltender Andy Moog during a scramble in the crease.

Defenseman Don Sweeney reinstated Boston's advantage less than a minute later. Sweeney sneaked in from the blue line to take a pass from Dave Poulin and cleanly beat Malarchuk with a back-hand move from the slot.

Mikko Makela tied it again at 13:25 of the second on a 10-footer off a pretty pass from Ruuttu.

Again, Boston countered. Craig Janney and Ruzicka worked a textbook two-on-one from close range, with Ruzicka converting on the power play at 16:10. It was his seventh goal of the season and third against the Sabres.

The Sabres came back with a power-play goal by Benoit Hogue at 18:40. Hogue flagged down a Turgeon pass intended for Vaive and beat Moog from 15 feet straightaway.

That set up the showdown third period that became a slowdown third period; Buffalo's two shots were a season-low. Meanwhile, Boston put 10 shots on Malarchuk and finished with a decisive 35-16 advantage.

"We took it to them," said Boston's Ray Bourque. "We played a good third period, and a pretty good game all in all."

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