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LAST CALL COMING FOR FINAL ROSTER SLOTS

It's make-or-break time for several young Buffalo Sabres. The preseason is quickly coming to an end, and the roster is in need of some serious trimming before the real games begin next week.

Buffalo has 27 players on its roster, and about 21 slots are spoken for. Prior to Thursday night's 3-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, coach Lindy Ruff said one position at forward and another on defense were still up for grabs.

Only two preseason games remain: tonight against the Ottawa Senators at the Corel Centre and Saturday night against the Leafs at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont.

"We're looking for somebody to really stand out, make it really tough on us to send them down," Ruff said. "It really lays in the player's hands. We'll give them one or two more games, but we're going to play a strong lineup every night with only two or three of our veteran players out of the lineup."

The battle for a roster spot ended today, for now, for goaltender Miko Noronen, who was sent down to the Rochester Americans.

The Sabres will take a hard look offensively at wingers Norm Milley and Taylor Pyatt. If the Sabres keep a young defenseman it will be Brian Campbell, probably in favor of veteran Jason Woolley.

Ruff said Milley, who had a team-high four shots Thursday, "for the first 40 minutes stood out above anybody. He played a very solid game for us."

Campbell, however, had a team-high four giveaways. Ruff couldn't say enough about Campbell in the early days of training camp, but on Thursday said "he's faded back a little bit, obviously."

The Sabres' lines Thursday consisted of Curtis Brown centering Pyatt on his left and Milley on his right; Tim Connolly between Miroslav Satan and J.P. Dumont; Chris Gratton between Slava Kozlov and Vaclav Varada; and Denis Hamel between Eric Boulton and Rob Ray.

The defensive pairings were Woolley with Jay McKee, Campbell with James Patrick, and Alexei Zhitnik with Richard Smehlik.
Ruff claimed indifference toward the inability of the Sabres and unsigned free agent forward Erik Rasmussen to reach terms on a contract.

"I've totally removed myself from that part of the game," Ruff said. "I can't do a darn thing about it. We went through this last year (with Michael Peca), and I'm sure we'll go through it next year. There will be players where you say, 'How the heck are they holding out? What are they holding out for?' "

Patrick wore the "C" Thursday as the Sabres' captain. Stu Barnes, Zhitnik and Brown also have worn it this preseason.
The Sabres' final preseason game Saturday against the Maple Leafs is sold out.
e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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