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CONSERVATIVE PLAY BREEDS ROAD SUCCESS

The Buffalo Sabres have played some of their best hockey this season away from Marine Midland Arena.

Even with Sunday night's loss in Detroit to the Red Wings, the Sabres finished the past week's road trip 3-1. They are 6-2-2 in their last 10 road games, with the two losses coming against the powerful Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Going back even further, Buffalo is 9-3-2 away from home since the All-Star break, and 11-4-3 in 1998. It's a major reason why the team has moved up in the race for advantageous playoff seedings in the Eastern Conference.

"I think we play more conservative (on the road), a little stronger in our system maybe," forward Dixon Ward said. "It's just a matter of focusing a little bit better. Sometimes you go through stretches where you are uptight in your own rink."

Coach Lindy Ruff added: "We've been a more patient team on the road. It's easier to play away from home in situations when you can keep teams at bay. Home teams get frustrated a lot faster and take a few more chances, and we've been able to take advantage of that."

Buffalo's road record is a bit surprising in that the team is one of the youngest in the National Hockey League, and young teams aren't supposed to be that good away from home. Ward said the kids on the roster refuse to act their age.

"The youth we do have is mature," he said. "We have a young captain (Michael Peca) who is mature beyond his years. Jay McKee, Curtis Brown -- they are mature hockey players who buy into the game plan. If you can get everyone to buy into the system, no matter what age they are, you're going to be successful. I think everyone is rowing in the same direction, and that helps us."

Any discussion of Buffalo's successful play on the road must include goalie Dominik Hasek. He blanked both Calgary and Edmonton on the trip, which NHL statisticians will have to research to see if that is unprecedented or merely extremely rare. He has allowed nine goals in eight road games since the Olympic break, a goals-against average of 1.12, with four shutouts.

"Dom is on the top of his game," Ruff said. "When your goaltender does that, you have a chance to win every night, and that's more important on the road."

Oddly, Buffalo is only 3-3-5 in its last 11 home games.
Peca Sunday missed his second game because of a suspension for a hit in Thursday's game against the Vancouver Canucks. No date has been set yet for a hearing by the National Hockey League. . . . Buffalo's scratches for Sunday's game were Mike Wilson and Michal Grosek. . . . Detroit had a 38-26 edge in shots. . . . Buffalo has the best record in the league in back-to-back games. The Sabres are 18-6-4 in such situations, going 8-4-2 in first games and 10-2-2 in second game. . . . Larry Murphy of the Red Wings scored his 1,100th career point.

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