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LENGTHY INJURED LIST AT LEAST ISN'T GROWING

The NHL standings indicate the Buffalo Sabres earned a tie against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.

But the battered Sabres scored a victory of sorts in the trainer's room.

"Nobody got hurt, and nobody got any worse," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Thursday.

A rash of injuries to Sabres defensemen in the past week has put the team in a precarious situation.

Their hobbled defensive unit turned in a gutsy effort against the Lightning. But the Sabres will have to do even better tonight against the high-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins in HSBC Arena.

Brian Campbell is playing with a broken foot, and Dmitri Kalinin is trudging through a shoulder injury.

Out are Alexei Zhitnik with a broken foot and Henrik Tallinder with a separated shoulder.

Zhitnik is unavailable for at least two weeks. Tallinder, however, has been cleared to practice. He skated Thursday and could be ready for Wednesday's game against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

"He's not near where he needs to be," Ruff said of Tallinder. "He's still sore. We're just taking some steps with him, trying to get him ready. You can look at him playing next week again."

In case you were wondering, former Sabres forward Erik Rasmussen has one goal, five assists, eight penalty minutes and an even rating through 21 games with the Los Angeles Kings.

Buffalo's 1996 first-round draft pick was traded over the summer for center Adam Mair, who has one goal, three assists, 69 penalty minutes and a plus-1 rating in 20 games. Mair is playing a much more gritty role than Rasmussen preferred.

The Buffalo Sabres and the American Academy of Ballet will present "The Nutcracker" at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts.

The holiday favorite -- with a hockey twist -- will benefit local charities the Heritage Centers (job and lifestyle opportunities for the disabled) and Vive La Casa (food, shelter and services for refugees).

Nine Sabres will appear in the production, and the players will sign autographs afterward and help with a silent auction to raise additional funds. Tickets for the event can be purchased by calling 852-5000 or from the Buffalo Sabres Wives at tonight's game on the 100 Level in the Pavilion.

The Sabres' annual Holiday Toy Drive to benefit The Buffalo News Neediest Fund begins tonight.

Fans who donate a new, unwrapped toy in the coming weeks will receive a buy-one-get-one-free voucher for a 100 level III ($59) or 300 Level II ($34) ticket to one of five December home games.
The atmosphere in HSBC Arena should be groovy tonight. Fans are encouraged to show up in their finest polyester threads or even their blue and gold Sabres duds for "Friday Night Fever," a night to honor the 1970s.

Barry Williams (Greg Brady from "The Brady Bunch") will sing the national anthem and be joined throughout the game by Chris Knight (Peter Brady) and Mike Lookinland (Bobby Brady) for in-game promotions. Music from the disco decade will be played during breaks in the action. Right on!

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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