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Sabres seek to start new streak in Atlanta Loss to Ottawa 'not end of world'

So now what?

After streaking to eight wins in a row and coming within a whisker of first place, the Buffalo Sabres were made to look like also-rans by conference-leading Ottawa. Will they be able to shrug it off, or will Saturday's 4-2 defeat that was immediately classified as "embarrassing" kick-start a funk?

If Sunday's practice exuberance in the very building where the Senators pulled away from Buffalo is any indication, look for the Sabres to start closing in on first place again.

That's their plan anyway.

"We're just back in the hunt again," center Derek Roy said in Ottawa's Scotiabank Place before flying to Atlanta for tonight's game against the Thrashers. "We're just starting right back where we were, so it's just keeping battling back. When we meet Ottawa next time we're going to be more ready."

The Sabres were beaten men Saturday night, but they sprang back Sunday morning. After a brisk practice led by assistants Scott Arniel and Brian McCutcheon -- coach Lindy Ruff left Sunday to return for Buffalo for a doctor's appointment for his daughter and may or may not come to Atlanta -- several forwards played against the defensemen in a game of half-ice shinny.

The goals by each side were punctuated with group hugs, and each time a puck was tipped past Ryan Miller the sound of youthful cheers echoed through the empty arena.

"It was just a bad game," defenseman Toni Lydman said of Saturday. "We just have to learn. Put this one behind us and just keep going. It's not the end of the world, but it's definitely something we've gotta take a lesson from."

The Sabres used an eight-game winning streak and a 36-7-5 record since early November to climb within a point of the Senators in the Northeast Division. The loss dropped them three points back, and Ottawa moved five points

ahead by beating New Jersey on Sunday.

Tonight they face an Atlanta team that has won five of its last seven games and entered Sunday just one point behind Montreal for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell promised his fans a playoff team, and they are making a charge.

It's a good test to see if the Sabres learned from getting outworked and outshot by the Senators. They displayed poor passing against the Senators, and most of Sunday's drills were two-on-ones or five-on-zeros that featured plenty of puck movement.

"I think the important thing is we've just got to grow as a team," co-captain Chris Drury said. "You can't just learn and grow together with wins, you also have to do it with losses."

One lesson learned was that intensity picks up in the closing weeks. The Senators showed more from the drop of the puck, and only a 45-save performance from Ryan Miller allowed the Sabres to stay close enough to entertain thoughts of winning.

Miller turns the net over to Martin Biron tonight, and the Sabres say they'll be more prepared to help him.

"You just learn you can't take anything for granted," said Sabres forward Thomas Vanek. "If things are going good, they can turn bad pretty quick. So no matter who we play, I think we need to play our same game and stick with it. It's one loss. It is against Ottawa and I wish we would have won the game, but unfortunately we didn't.

"We'll move on and regroup."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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