Maybe this time the Buffalo Sabres will make it respectable.
For them, that doesn't mean merely avoiding embarrassment for the first time against the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres are out to overthrow the club that has dominated them three times this season.
The Sabres can climb within three points of their Northeast Division superiors when they meet at 7:30 tonight in HSBC Arena.
"I think every guy in that room believes we can beat them," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said after Friday's practice in the Amherst Pepsi Center.
"The way we're playing there's a lot of confidence in that room to move up [in the standings]. In our case, it's, 'Let's go after the division.' What better opportunity than going head-to-head with the team that's sitting just above you."
About 1,500 tickets were available for a contest expected to feature the goaltending matchup of thriving rookie Ryan Miller and the man whose number likely will hang above him from the girders someday, Dominik Hasek.
The Sabres extended their win streak to four games Thursday night with a commanding 4-2 performance over the Philadelphia Flyers.
It was another fine effort against a top NHL squad, but the Sabres have had an awful time trying to compete with the Senators, who have smeared them each time they've played: a 5-0 Hasek shutout Oct. 8 in Ottawa, a 10-4 rout Nov. 2 in Buffalo and a 6-1 thumping Nov. 12 in Ottawa.
That's an aggregate score of 21-5, with the Senators using otherwise-ordinary backup goalie Ray Emery the last two games.
Neither side, however, would put any stock in those games. Players and coaches on both sides were quick to point out much has changed in 12 weeks.
"I think the Sabres, they are pretty hot," Hasek said after the Senators' afternoon workout in the Pepsi Center. "We beat them last time very easily, but it seems like now they are a much, much better team.
"At the beginning of the season, they had a very young team and maybe they were not experienced. Now it seems they are one of the best teams in the NHL."
Ruff dismissed the possibility the first three landslides mentally would
affect his players tonight.
"We put those games behind us," Ruff said. "They were a long ways in the past. Each game had circumstances inside of them where we allowed them to get momentum, and they beat us pretty handily. But we're playing well right now. We've played well for a long period of time. We're going to stress playing our game."
Buffalo defenseman Henrik Tallinder, though, admitted it's difficult to forget three consecutive blowout losses in which the Sabres never led or were within sniffing range by the second intermission.
"We've been pretty bad against them," Tallinder said. "Of course, it's always in the back of your mind.
"But everybody's more confident now. We know what we're up against. We know we're a good team and we're up there with them. We know we can play at that level. We just have to show it against them."
As well as the Sabres have played recently, the Senators have faltered, going a pedestrian 8-6 with one overtime loss since New Year's Day.
"It won't be the same games when we blew them away," Senators winger Vaclav Varada said. "I think it's going to be a tight game. We're struggling a little bit now. It's going to be interesting to see how we respond to them."
Hasek also has proved fallible lately. He's having another Vezina Trophy-caliber season, topping the NHL with a 2.05 goals-against average. He's tied for the league lead with a .927 save percentage and ranks second with five shutouts.
But the 41-year-old legend, making his third start in four nights Wednesday, let the New Jersey Devils score five times.
The Sabres have averaged 5.67 goals over their past three games.
"Both teams will come out with a lot of intensity and respect for each other," Senators coach Bryan Murray said. "It should be a real speed game. The goaltenders will have to face the music, I think. They'll get their chances both ways."
Tallinder suggested the Sabres would try to make an impression on their opening shifts and said they must respond immediately to any bad breaks.
"You have to show you're ready to play," Tallinder said. "You just have to be ready to do all the little things right, and that's the way we've been playing the last couple games."