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Streaking Sabres Strong goaltending and diverse scoring ignite hot streak

Satisfaction isn't the right word.

That would connote a sense of finality for a job well done, a premature mission accomplished, as it were.

Instead, whenever defenseman Jay McKee stops to consider just how much the Buffalo Sabres have achieved so far this season, he feels a reaffirmation for what they're working toward.

"I think everyone on the team feels awful proud of what we've accomplished so far," McKee said. "It's all hard work that's paying off. It feels very rewarding."

An NHL season can seem like a relentless string of games, a constant preparation for the next city, the next opponent. As the 2005-06 campaign blurs past -- the midway point is days away -- Sabres fans might want to pause and try to fully comprehend all this team has done during a most astonishing run of success.

"When we look at the standings and see our record at 23 wins and 10 losses," said McKee, "my reaction is, 'Wow, did that ever come fast.' "

The Sabres are on a borderline-obnoxious roll heading into tonight's game against the Florida Panthers in the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. The Sabres have won seven in a row, and a victory tonight would give them 10 straight on the road to tie their NHL record from 1983-84.

Their remarkable 15-1-1 run encompasses exactly half of their games played so far. It dates back a month and a week, and has banked them more than a third of the 90 points teams shoot for to make the playoffs.

The Sabres have skyrocketed in the standings. They became the second team in the league to reach 23 wins and entered Wednesday night only two points behind the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings for the most points in the league.

"We expected to be a good team, but nobody expects something like this," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We're almost at the point where we don't even want to talk about it."

Perhaps most impressive is how the Sabres have found ways to win so many nail-biters. On Monday night, after a shootout with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Sabres broke the league record by winning their sixth consecutive one-goal
game. Two of them were in sudden death, one in a shootout.

"There have been games that in the past we would have lost," Ruff said. "This team's good enough now where that doesn't happen anymore."

Buffalo is an astounding 13 games over .500 but has outscored the opposition by only seven goals.

Much of that anomaly can be attributed to two factors: a lull in which Buffalo lost six out of seven, and Northeast Division nemesis Ottawa. Take away Buffalo's three losses to Ottawa -- by a combined margin of 21-5 -- and the Sabres have outscored opponents by 23 goals.

Prior to Philadelphia, the Sabres had averaged four goals a game in their previous six.

"We're really confident that the things we have done right are the reasons for our good success," said goalie Martin Biron, who has won a club-record 13 straight starts. "We also know a lot of good bounces and lucky bounces have gone our way to make that streak continue, but everybody in the locker room is confident they can contribute to this run. It's not relying on any one group of guys."

Over their past 15 victories, 10 Sabres have scored the winning goal.

More incredible yet, co-captain Daniel Briere has played in only six of those wins, while integral winger J.P. Dumont played in two. McKee claimed the Sabres have remained grounded despite their success. He has been amazed at the blue-collar atmosphere that permeates the Sabres' dressing room after a victory.

"We've had games we've won and come back to the room and guys aren't hooting and hollering," McKee said. "In Philadelphia we were (pumped) because it was an emotional win, but guys are going from that to right back to business.

"Guys are pretty humble about what we've done. Everything just seems to get put behind us after each win. We just look forward to the next one."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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