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Olympians don't expect gold rush in Turin

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Buffalo Sabres will have three shots to bring an Olympic gold medal back to HSBC Arena.

The odds, however, are against it.

"I don't think there's a whole lot of pressure on our team," said Finland defenseman Toni Lydman. "Never really been the favorite."

All four Sabres heading to Turin today can be described as underdogs. That's because none of them play for Canada or the Czech Republic, the clear favorites to mine gold Feb. 26.

The Sabres have co-captain Chris Drury skating for the United States, winger Maxim Afinogenov playing for Russia and Lydman and Teppo Numminen on Finland's blue line. Jochen Hecht was picked to play for Germany, but he suffered a knee injury Thursday and will miss the Olympics.

Canada is the prohibitive pick to win it all. Online sports books list Canada at about even money to repeat. The Czechs are next at about 3-to-1. The Russians and Swedes are roughly 6-to-1. The Americans are around 10-to-1, followed by the Finns at 18-to-1. The rest are triple-digit underdogs.

But in round-robin and single-elimination play, upsets are bound to occur.

"I don't think there's a clear favorite," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I would love to say that, boy, Canada looks awesome. But I would say there's a lot of really good players on a lot of teams. You take the Czechs, you take the Russians, you take the Finns. You get in a tournament like that and anything can happen."

None of the Sabres Olympians has won a gold medal. Drury won silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where Afinogenov earned bronze. Numminen has a silver from 1988 and a bronze from 1998, while Lydman is making his Olympic debut.

Olympic gold is the last piece of elite hockey hardware Drury hasn't won.

"It's not something I sit up thinking about to complete me as a player, but once we get into it I'm going to want to win like crazy," Drury said. "I definitely want to win the tournament, and if that comes with gold that would be awesome."

Lydman had a smile on his face while contemplating the possibilities. Best-of-seven series have a way of ensuring the stacked team will win. At the Olympics, any team can pull off a miracle.

"If we're at our best I think we can beat anybody," Lydman said. "But everything has to go perfectly against the top teams. It works the other way, too. We had a tough time in the World Cup quarterfinal against Germany. Not to say Germany's a bad team, but a 2-1 victory was really tight.

"It's playoffs, but it's only one game. Anything can happen."

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Sabres goalie Ryan Miller started his ninth straight game Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes in the RBC Center. Martin Biron hasn't played since Jan. 21, and with the upcoming Olympic break he will have sat out about a month and a half by the time he gets his next action.

"I don't think one game would make that much difference," Ruff said before the game. "We've had points in eight straight games. We've been on a tear, and I'm not going to change anything."

Teams can't hold any workouts until Feb. 22 or even contact their players. Once practice resumes, Biron will face a vigorous regimen to bang off any rust that has accumulated.

"Marty, we will work him to the bone in those eight days previous [to the resumption of NHL play] to get him ready," Ruff said. "Playing one game now won't make any difference if you're going to have another two weeks off."

Biron hasn't won a game since Dec. 17, the final notch in winning a club-record 13 starts in succession.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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