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PLAYOFF PAST DOESN'T BODE WELL FOR SABRES BUFFALO HAS HAD A DEVIL OF A TIME IN PREVIOUS SIXTH GAMES

If they are to force a seventh game in their first-round playoff series, the Buffalo Sabres will have to defy their history tonight at 7:30 against the New Jersey Devils (Empire, Radio 550) at Memorial Auditorium.

Buffalo has won the sixth game in a best-of-seven series only three times in 10 tries. They have lost their only two appearances in seventh games.

The Sabres enter Game Six knowing they may have let an upset slip away Monday night in East Rutherford, N.J., where they blew a 3-1 lead in Game Five and lost, 5-3. The Devils took a 3-2 series lead.

"I look for this to go seven games," Sabres coach John Muckler said Tuesday after explaining what went wrong the previous night.

Buffalo led, 3-1, after a breakaway goal at 5:42 of the second period by Alexander Mogilny, who has four goals in the series. Then the Sabres began to play "prevent hockey when we should have taken charge," Muckler said.

"We had them right where we wanted them, and we let them off the hook," Muckler said. "We didn't attack. We stood still. We turned the puck over and kind of watched."

Muckler said he wants his team to be more aggressive tonight. "We can't go out and play negative hockey, afraid of making mistakes," he said. "That's one of the things I talked about today."

The Sabres held an optional practice Tuesday at the Aud, followed by a rather long team meeting. Nearly all of the players who saw the most ice time Monday night did not skate.

Most of the Sabres were giving the Devils credit for snapping back when they were down two goals on home ice.

"They didn't give up. They came at us hard and rattled our 'D,' " said defenseman Doug Bodger.

"That game is over. You can't worry about it now," defenseman Craig Muni said. "Now there is no tomorrow for us. We have to win tomorrow. New Jersey might have a different attitude. They only have to play to win one game."

This series is a long way from being over, winger Wayne Presley said. "Everybody knew it was going to be a close series. You figure it's going to go seven games."

If the Sabres win tonight, Presley said they'll be confident about a seventh game, even though it would be Friday in New Jersey.

"We know we can beat them there. We did it once in the regular season, and we did it once in the playoffs," Presley said.

New Jersey's Claude Lemieux said that, in the third period Monday, the Devils took advantage of the fact that they have bigger, stronger forwards.

Muni wasn't buying the notion that the Sabres are showing signs of wearing down. Neither was Muckler.

"Their guys are just as tired as our guys," Muni said. "It's all mental."

"Not at all," Muckler said. "It's been a tough series on both sides, an emotional series on both sides."

The Sabres expect to get winger Jason Dawe (knee) back tonight. Dawe appeared to be skating easily in practice Tuesday. However, center Bob Sweeney (knee) said he's definitely out, though he skated Tuesday. Sweeney has missed the entire series. Defenseman Petr Svoboda, who did not skate, appears doubtful.

The Devils dressed defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and center Alexander Semak for the first time in the series Monday in place of defenseman Jason Smith and center Corey Millen. Given their success in Game Five, it would seem likely New Jersey will go with the same lineup, unless injured center Bernie Nicholls can return.

Muckler left no doubt that Dominik Hasek will be his goalie tonight. Martin Brodeur, whose point-blank glove save on Mogilny kept New Jersey in Game Five and helped turn it around, is certain to start for the Devils.

SABRES RECORD IN SIXTH GAMES

1992 -- Won at home against Boston, 9-3, in first round, but lost seventh game at Boston, 3-2.

1991 -- Lost at home to Montreal, 5-1, in first round.

1990 -- Lost at Montreal, 5-2, in first round.

1988 -- Lost at home to Boston, 5-2, in first round.

1983 -- Won at home against Boston, 5-3, in second round but lost seventh game in Boston, 3-2 in overtime.

1980 -- Lost at New York Islanders, 5-2, in conference finals.

1976 -- Lost at New York Islanders, 3-2, in second round.

1975 -- Lost at home to Philadelphia, 2-0, in finals.

1975 -- Won at Montreal, 4-3, in semifinals.

1973 -- Lost at home to Montreal, 4-2, in first round.

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