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It's all about team for Sabres' Biron Goalie willing to be backup for now

PHILADELPHIA -- Martin Biron doesn't get worked up about very much, so it wasn't as if he was sweating out the NHL trade deadline. He told himself long ago that he would accept whatever happened, but truth be known he was a conflicted athlete for much of the season with the Buffalo Sabres.

Biron is no different than most players who are trying to balance the team concept with personal gain. The Sabres are steaming through the regular season, but he's back to riding shotgun. Everybody knows Biron can talk, and heaven knows he could have squawked, which left him with a decision.

Was he better off sitting the bench and winning or being the No. 1 goalie for a lesser team?

"It was at the crossroads," Biron said after practice Friday morning as the Sabres prepared for today's matinee with the Philadelphia Flyers. "The team was doing extremely well and you could get that team success you always looked for, but it might be at the expense of your personal fulfillment."

What to do?

Biron pushed his ego and personal agenda aside and decided to take a ride with his teammates. He won 13 consecutive starts when Miller was out with a broken thumb, knowing full well it was back to the bench when Miller returned. He's been there when they needed him, been there when they didn't.

"You know Marty's personality," Sabres assistant coach Brian McCutcheon said. "He doesn't get too concerned about a lot of things that he can't control. He'll just keep rolling along."

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was attending to personal matters and missed practice Friday in HSBC Arena. He joined the Sabres for the flight to Philadelphia and will be behind the bench this afternoon. Ruff has never been one to tip his hand, but it wouldn't surprise anybody if Biron started today after Miller was roughed up for five goals Thursday.

Really, it matters little.

Biron has learned to accept whatever's offered, which is one reason the Sabres decided to keep him past the trade deadline and move Mika Noronen. Biron had a larger role with the Sabres and fit into the team concept. Ruff knows he'll be ready when needed. If not, Biron will quietly take his seat at the end of the bench.

"He's a goalie that can be a No. 1 in this league," defenseman Jay McKee said. "To be sitting behind another guy has gotta be tough. A lot of guys couldn't handle it, but he's done it as good as anybody possibly could. He's about team. That's the character he has in him, and it's showing more than ever right now."

Biron figures what happens later is irrelevant now. He's a restricted free agent making $2.19 million this season, too much for a backup. Biron's future will be decided later, but staying with Buffalo did come as a relief. His wife is due with their second child in the second week of April. He's comfortable with his role. He can sense something special is happening. For now, it's enough to keep him happy.

"Now that it's clear, you know the team is No. 1," he said. "You can get fulfillment in doing what you're asked to do. You can get both. You can move [personal goals] aside. If the team was in the position it was two or three years ago, it might have been a different story. It is what it is now, and that's why I'm happy."

And that's how this team has worked all season. Buffalo's success is no mystery. The Sabres have 40 victories in their first 61 games, the first time that's happened in team history, because they've found various ways to win. Miller gave up five goals behind a shaky defense Thursday night against Tampa Bay, and the Sabres won by three.

The Sabres haven't lost more than two in a row in regulation since November 9. During the same span, they've had winning streaks of five, six and seven games. Buffalo is looking for its fourth straight win today.

"Going into every game, we're thinking about winning, not how much we're going to lose by," center Derek Roy said. "It's been the whole difference. Every guy knows we're going to win every game. Obviously, Lindy brings that winning attitude to the dressing room and every guy is buying into it."

One could argue they're winning because they're together, together because they're winning. Teams that work their way into a comfortable position in the standings have a tendency to step back and relax, but the Sabres have raised their standards going into the final 21 games. Reaching the postseason is no longer enough. Buffalo wants to finish atop the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres need not look long for motivation. If the season ended today, they would play the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. Ottawa and Carolina are looming in the background. The Sabres were two points behind the Senators and six points behind the Hurricanes going into the weekend. Buffalo plays Ottawa four times and Carolina twice between now and April 18. Three games are in the final two weeks of the season.

"In mid-November, Ottawa was in a different category than us," Biron said. "We've been able to overcome that. Now that's definitely the goal. There's something to be said about playing Philly because we could face them in the playoffs. Things like that give the season that playoff atmosphere. It's what keeps it interesting."

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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