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SABRES OPEN LONG, LONG ROAD TRIP

It's been an interesting couple of days for Brian Campbell.

He had just finished playing defense in a Rochester Americans game on Sunday when he got the call: "Pack your bags, we're moving you back up to the parent club. Don't forget to bring your parka and your sandals and, for heaven's sake, make sure you don't leave the oven on.

"You're going to be gone a while."

Starting with tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators (7; Empire; 107.7 & 1330), Campbell and the Buffalo Sabres will spend the next week ricocheting around North America. Far and away the longest, most grueling trip of the Sabres' season, the whirlwind tour takes them through Ottawa, Philadelphia, Colorado, Dallas and Boston -- all in eight days.

To borrow from Queen's jock-rockin' "We Are the Champions," this is no bed of roses. No pleasure cruise.

The changes in climate and time zone are treacherous enough, but as challenges go, the sniffles and jetlag pale in comparison with the high-caliber teams the Sabres face at every stop. First, they visit the Senators, who lead the Eastern Conference. Next is a Thursday game in Philadelphia, where the East's second-place team lies in wait.

After that, the Sabres reboard the plane for back-to-back afternoon games with the league-leading Avalanche on Saturday and two-time defending Western Conference champion Dallas on Sunday. Then it's back East for a Tuesday battle with the Bruins, who are currently one point out of eighth place -- and therefore one point out of the playoffs.

"We're going to be playing the top teams around the league, so it's a good establishing point for ourselves to see where we're at," forward Erik Rasmussen said. "Our goal is always .500 on the road, and especially on this road trip it's going to be important."

It won't be easy for Buffalo to come out of these five games with five points. Each foe has a winning record, and All-Stars lay in the Sabres' path like land mines.

The intrepid travelers will come across four of the NHL's scariest goalies in Ottawa's Patrick Lalime, Flyers' All-Star Roman Cechmanek, Colorado's Patrick Roy, who holds the NHL record for career wins, and Dallas maverick Eddie Belfour. The Sabres also will see a passel of 50-point scorers, including six in Colorado alone, and a ton of muscle, especially in Philadelphia.

"Hopefully, this is a stretch that can get us on a roll and maybe bring the better out in us that has kind of been escaping periodically," winger Rob Ray said. "It's something we're looking forward to. It's going to be a good challenge and if we can come out of this half-decent, then it should set us up for down the road."

The first two games could be pivotal, not only because they probably will set the tone for the rest of the trip, but also because they match the Sabres with potential first-round playoff opponents.

"If we feel like we can beat some of these teams on the road, it helps our confidence before the playoffs, because in the playoffs you'll only face the best teams," goalie Dominik Hasek said. "You don't face any more teams like Tampa Bay or Columbus. We will face only good teams like Philadelphia or Ottawa, so it's a big test for our team."

At least full-time Sabres like Ray and Hasek had plenty of warning that this test was coming. Campbell, who has played just two games for the Sabres this season and 14 in his nascent NHL career, had only one night to prepare. He drove from his home near Rochester to Buffalo Monday morning, and touched down in Ottawa Monday afternoon.

Now he's got a week of airplanes, suitcases and hotels, all accompanied by the possibility that he won't make it onto the ice in any of the five arenas he'll visit.

"It's a lot of tough games coming up for the hockey club," he said. "Hopefully, I can just fit in, nice and quiet. And hopefully I can get in the lineup and work hard, and see where it goes from there."
The Sabres left for Ottawa Monday without winger Vaclav Varada and defenseman Richard Smehlik. Varada, who suffered what appears to be a Grade 2 concussion against Tampa Bay Sunday, will not be eligible to play until he has been symptom-free for a week. Smehlik, still suffering from a re-aggravated groin injury, also did not make the trip.

Woolley, whose temperamental right knee buckled when he was hit by Tampa Bay's Ben Clymer on Sunday, is traveling with the team but did not skate in Monday's practice. Woolley will likely sit out tonight's game in favor of Campbell.

BUFFALO SABRES
Who's hot: LW Dave Andreychuk has three goals and an assist in the last three games.

Record last 5: 4-1-0-0
Power play: 44 of 288 (15.3%)
Penalty killing: 31 of 247 (87.4%)
Injuries: D Jason Woolley (knee, questionable), D Richard Smehlik (groin, out), RW Vaclav Varada (concussion, out), C Denis Hamel (knee, out for season).

Fast fact: Dominik Hasek leads all goalies in penalty minutes (20).

OTTAWA SENATORS
Who's hot: G Patrick Lalime broke a club record with his sixth shutout of the season in Saturday's 3-0 win over Vancouver.
Record last 5: 4-1
Power play: 48 of 287 (16.7%)
Penalty killing: 37 of 280 (86.8%)
Injuries: D Sami Salo (shoulder, out), C John Emmons (ankle).
Fast fact: Eastern Conference's second-stingiest defense (147 goals allowed).

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