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J.P. Dumont appeared in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room after Monday's 2-0 win over Ottawa with his hair slicked back and the corners of his mouth upturned.

The winger's look was familiar, but not exactly the same one he has sported through a month of scoring droughts, flu bugs and strained muscles. On Monday night it was sweat, not styling gel, that lent Dumont's coif the wet look.

And, for the first time in weeks, it was a smile rather than a grimace that tugged at his lips.

In his first game back after missing two with a rib injury, Dumont scored a first-period goal that proved to be the game-winner. Perhaps even more significant, Dumont's body seemed no worse for wear after a hard-hitting, physical contest with the Senators.

"I tested pretty good tonight," he said. "I got hit and I hit, too, so I think I'm all right."

That's good news for the Sabres, who counted on Dumont to carry much of the offensive load through the first three months of the season. With 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points, Dumont ranks second on the team in all three categories to Miroslav Satan (22-27-49) despite having slogged through an 18-game goal-less slump from Dec. 26 to Feb. 1.

It's been a tough winter, but Dumont believes his troubles are finally behind him.

"I think I'm all set until next year now," he said, his hair dripping onto his beaming face. "I got a stretch where I didn't score a goal and I got a stretch where I was hurt and sick, so I think I'm all set now. So I'm very happy. Everything is over."

Dale Earnhardt's fatal crash in the final lap of Sunday's Daytona 500 stunned sports fans across North America, including the ones who make their living on the ice in Buffalo.

"I was watching the race . . . and I never even realized -- it didn't look that bad," Dave Andreychuk said after Monday's game-day skate. "He was a well-respected guy, and that makes it even worse for a lot of guys. It's a shame."

Although Andreychuk isn't a big motorsports fan, he participates in a NASCAR fantasy league with some members of the Sabres' training staff and teammates like Stu Barnes, Curtis Brown and Martin Biron.

Biron, a longtime follower of Formula One racing and a casual NASCAR watcher, compared Earnhardt's wreck with the incident in which then-Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk had his neck slashed by a skate during a 1989 game.

"I've seen it happen in F-1, and the next week they still go at it. They need that drive, they need that adrenaline. That's why they play the sport," Biron said. "You see a guy like Clint Malarchuk getting a skate in the throat and almost dying on the ice right there, and if it wasn't for probably a little help from everybody -- from Pizza (trainer Jim Pizzutelli), from God -- he would have died right there. And then you just keep doing it, because in a way you don't think it could happen to you."

Rob Ray called Earnhardt's accident "very unfortunate," but noted that athletes take risks every time they compete.

"It's the exact same thing as us going out there every day," he said. "You could wipe out, go into the boards and be paralyzed the rest of your life, and that's the chance you take. You know that could be something that happens, but you can't go to work every day thinking that.

"You don't think those guys go to work every day thinking, 'If I crash I might die.' I think there are some that do, but they're the ones that probably aren't the good drivers because they're too cautious. If you're too cautious then you're not going to win, and if you're not going to win then you're not going to be working."

Brown, the only real NASCAR devotee in the group, had a hard time putting his feelings into words at first, finally, he settled on these:

"Life is precious and death knows no race, no celebrity, no gender. It can happen to any one of us at any given time. It reminds us to appreciate what we have."

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