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Northeast Division is in a class by itself

The Buffalo Sabres are the lone NHL club with 30 wins. They are one of two teams with single-digit regulation losses. Their record is so persuasive the next closest team in the Eastern Conference standings is seven points back and has played one more game.

In the robust Northeast Division, however, they have been pedestrian.

Saturday night's 4-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs kept the Sabres from slipping to .500 in divisional play. They're 8-6 with one overtime loss.

"When you play against teams that are battling for a spot in the division and even in the conference, no doubt, those are big nights," said Sabres goalie Martin Biron, who made 32 saves in the Air Canada Centre. "They're fun games, but they're definitely high stakes."

The Northeast has been the most competitive division in league thus far. Through the weekend, each of the five teams had a winning record (Toronto was below the watermark counting overtime and shootout losses). The Boston Bruins had the lowest point total with 43 -- no other division had all teams above 38 points -- even though the Bruins had played the fewest games in the league.

The Ottawa Senators have owned the Sabres, beating them four times in five tries. The Montreal Canadiens have played some taut games against the Sabres, beating them once in regulation, once in overtime and losing twice in shootouts.

"Our division is pretty tight, and there's a high level of hockey being played," Biron said. "I think we should be excited we're in such a strong division because in the end it's only going to make us stronger."


Because all three Canadian teams in the Eastern Conference reside in the Northeast Division, it's pretty easy to figure out the Sabres haven't had much luck against them. Saturday's victory nudged the Sabres to 6-6 with an overtime loss against the Senators, Canadiens and Leafs.

The only U.S. teams to have beaten the Sabres in regulation are the Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Of the Sabres' remaining 39 games, 14 are against Canadian teams.

Five of those will be shown on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada," as was Saturday night's triumph. The Sabres are 2-3 on the Canadian TV institution.

"You come to Toronto on a Saturday night, it's a division rival, it's a building that's always exciting to play in, and you come in and it's 'Hockey Night in Canada,' everything,"
Biron said. "You get ready for those games. It's a lot of fun.

"I think when you don't play a whole lot you even get a little bit more pumped up for those games. At the beginning of the game my legs were going left and right, it was hard to control them, but it felt good."


Sabres beat cop Andrew Peters left Saturday night's game and didn't return after Leafs defenseman Bryan McCabe drilled him atop the foot with a slap shot 8:25 into the game. Peters clearly was in pain and struggled to get back to the bench, but after the game both he and coach Lindy Ruff said there was no lasting injury.


Defenseman Teppo Numminen didn't have any points or shots but was a season-high plus-4 against the Leafs. Numminen is a plus-9 in his past nine games, raising his rating to plus-10.

Left winger Thomas Vanek is third in the NHL at plus-22, just two behind leader and perennial Norris Trophy candidate Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings. Vanek is a plus-18 at home, tops in the league.


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