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GOALIE SITUATION GETTING RUFF

It always was one of Lindy Ruff's most simple decisions as coach of the Sabres. Not sure who should start in goal on a given night? Go with the Dominator. It was never exactly a brain teaser.

Dominik Hasek hasn't been around for the last few months. He's home skating on his own, perhaps preparing for the NHL All-Star Game. The Sabres are 1-2 on their four-game road trip without him. Rookie Martin Biron is showing signs he's tired. Backup Dwayne Roloson is tired of watching Biron get tired.

"We have to give it some thought," Ruff said. "We're getting into some uncharted territory with Marty and his endurance, whether he's going to be tired or not. We're going to have to put a lot of thought into it. It's an easy decision to second-guess either way."

Ruff's problem is that the Sabres need victories before this season gets away from them. They thought they had turned the corner at least five times this season, but that's what the mouse always thinks in the middle of the maze. Maybe they will see the end today in a matinee against the Carolina Hurricanes (1:30 p.m., Empire, 104.1), but nobody knows for sure.

The Hurricanes, like the Sabres, are trying to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Carolina has lost five straight games and stands in 11th place, a point behind Buffalo. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

So, at least by January standards, this afternoon's game is looming large. That's why Ruff and his assistant coaches have a difficult decision regarding the starting goaltender.

Biron is no different from any other starting goaltender. He's the better goalie at this point, he's the goalie of the future, and he wants to play. Roloson is no different than any other backup. He's wondering when he'll make another start. He has started only twice since Dec. 8.

"I know how to take care of myself," Biron said. "If you play a lot, there are things you can do. You have to eat right, rest. If you get 45 minutes in the afternoon, instead of going to the mall, you (take a nap). These are things you have to do. You know how your body responds."

Biron played well Thursday night in the 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, the Sabres second straight defeat. He allowed one bad goal and had no chance on the other one. It was much better than his performance Tuesday, when he allowed three goals on 14 shots against Los Angeles and was pulled in the first minute of the second period.

Physically, he feels fine. Ruff's concern is that Biron is becoming mentally fatigued. He was allowed to rest during a practice the day before the Phoenix game and saw little action in the first period before giving up a softie on the Coyotes' second shot.

"I gave up a bad one, but I felt good after that," said Biron, who made 21 saves. "I was frustrated. I was mad at myself a little bit. Saturday, if I can go back in, I want that shot. If I go back in, I'll stop them."

The Sabres have had a hellish travel schedule from the start of this trip. Their departure was delayed for an hour. They had three games in four nights in three cities. Their flights were delayed three times. Friday's flight was delayed seven hours, which hampered plans for an afternoon practice in Raleigh.

Biron is tied for the league lead with four shutouts and, at times, has been brilliant. He also has been pulled from three of his last nine starts. He is 16-12-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.

Roloson has been quiet while getting slightly more work than he had last season behind Hasek. He played well against the Kings in his 38 1/2 minutes. He has a 1-7-3 record with a 2.84 GAA and a .884 save percentage.

Skewing those statistics was a 7-2 nightmare against Detroit in which he started, was pulled and sent back into the game after Biron flopped in relief. There are worse ways to make money than sitting the bench, but he never wanted to be known as Rolie the Backup Goalie.

"(Sitting) doesn't help," Roloson said. "You're like anybody. You want to play. When you get a chance to play (frequently), it makes it so much easier. Getting thrown into the heat of the moment is tough. Everything just gets rusty."

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