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PECA EXCITED TO BE BACK, RUFF GLAD TO HAVE HIM

Michael Peca was back with the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, and it was hard to tell who was happier: Peca or his coach, Lindy Ruff.

"It's a good feeling to be back," Peca said. "I wanted to be part of the team, feel what they are feeling. I've always felt like I was part of the team, but now it will be good to be a part of it again."

"It's great news," Ruff said. "It should be a big lift for the team. Obviously we have a guy that can play against the other team's top line."

Peca ended a contract dispute by signing a two-year contract with an option year on Tuesday. The center had been a free agent since his old contract expired July 1, and he said the long wait was worth it.

"I wouldn't have gone through it if I didn't think it would be beneficial to both sides at the end," he said. "Support on my decision came from people in my life, and it made the decision that much easier."

Peca flew in from Buffalo late Monday night, and took part in a pregame skate at McNichols Arena Tuesday morning. The rest of the team was given the morning off.

"I was by myself again . . . just like the last few months," Peca said with a grin. "I know my conditioning is not what the rest of the team is. The best way to get back in shape is to play the games."

Peca's return means the Sabres will have some extra talent at center. He joins Brian Holzinger, Derek Plante, Wayne Primeau and Erik Rasmussen at the position. That could mean either Primeau or Rasmussen could shift to wing or be sent to Rochester.

"Unfortunately, we've got Rasmussen hurting a little bit (with a bruised shoulder, which kept him out of Tuesday's lineup)," Ruff said. "We've got Peca coming in, so we're shuffling lines again. It's going to be a juggling act to see who fits where and to find the right combinations."

Peca's return also could spur Ruff into making a decision about the captaincy of the team, although the coach said that action is not imminent.

"I'll evaluate it," Ruff said. "I'll see how he is around the team and how his game is. Then I can make a true assessment. Now I'll be able to look at everybody."

Peca said becoming captain "has never crossed my mind. A lot of people mentioned it, but during the negotiations my one priority was to sign a contract and get back into uniform."

Patrick Roy won the 355th game of his career, tying him for seventh with Rogie Vachon on the all-time list. . . . Randy Burridge and Bob Boughner were scratches. . . . Buffalo finished with 21 shots to Colorado's 19. . . . The Sabres were 0 for 5 on the power play, while the Avalanche was 1 for 5.

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