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BIRON HOPES TO OWN PENS FOR A CHANGE

Mario Lemieux is the Pittsburgh Penguins' owner.

That must make Martin Biron a subsidiary of Lemieux's corporation because the Pittsburgh Penguins have owned the Buffalo Sabres goaltender since the day he entered the league.

Biron became the fourth-youngest goalie to appear in an NHL game when he made his debut in Pittsburgh the day after Christmas seven years ago.

He allowed four goals in two periods before getting pulled, and his fortunes against the Penguins haven't improved much since then.

But bolstered by a healthy effort in Wednesday's 1-1 tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Biron knows a victory over the Penguins tonight in HSBC Arena (7 p.m., Empire, Radio 107.7 FM) can help the Sabres' spiraling season.

"I don't really look at a team and say, 'I haven't had much luck against this team,' " Biron said after practice Thursday morning. "I gotta look at it as a big steppingstone, a big challenge. They're coming into our building, and we gotta get going."

Biron's record versus the Penguins is 1-8-1 with a 3.74 goals-against average.

He allowed five goals in his most recent loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 26. He stopped only 18 shots, while the Penguins scored on their first four power plays.

"I have looked long and hard at the record that goaltenders have against some teams," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "In Marty's case we just have to put that behind us and come up with a game plan that's going to protect him and keep him away from situations where their skill players can take over the game."

It's a tricky position for Ruff in that he's trying to help Biron -- and the team as a whole -- rebuild confidence.

Ruff has started three goalies in the past seven games. Prospect Ryan Miller was called up from Rochester to start two games last week, and usual backup Mika Noronen got the nod as recently as Nov. 12.

Biron looked sharp in making 23 saves against the Lightning. It was the first time in nearly a month he allowed fewer than three goals.

But now he will be expected to build off that performance against his bugaboo, which also happens to be one of the NHL's most dangerous offensive teams.

Lemieux is way ahead in the league scoring race with 45 points. Alexei Kovalev is fourth with 28 points, Aleksey Morozov is tied for eighth with 25 points, and defenseman Dick Tarnstrom is tied for 10th with 24 points.

"Their power play is lethal and has been lethal now for 20 games," Ruff said.

The coach, nevertheless, is not afraid to send Biron into the storm.

"I did say the other day we were going to get him up and running," Ruff said. "Marty is definitely playing. We're in a situation now where there's no secrets.

"We're going to build off that effort. He is our No. 1 guy. It's just getting him to a level where he can win us some games. He gave our club some confidence the other night. I think he gained some confidence. There's a lot to be said for that."

Biron said he has gotten increasingly comfortable in recent weeks. And he really likes the firm leg pads he started wearing Monday, CCM Blockades.

New equipment might not sound like a big deal. But when a player is slumping the smallest of positive changes can become a significant help.

"What we're all playing for is to win the game, and that's the ultimate reward," Biron said.

"Personally, (a victory) would just get me going. I've been working really hard the last few weeks and trying to get as much action and see as many pucks in practice as if it was a game situation all the time.

"Tampa Bay was a step in the right direction. It was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel that you're working in the right direction. They always say if you work real hard you'll get the reward. Well, I've been working really hard, and (Pittsburgh) would be a big win."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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