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Ruff pushes reset for Panthers

In Lindy Ruff's world, the Buffalo Sabres face the Florida Panthers tonight for the first time this month.

Of course, any Sabres fan remembers the teams' meeting last week in South Florida. Buffalo was embarrassingly outplayed, and only the great goaltending of Ryan Miller kept the score a respectable 3-1.

For Ruff, that game doesn't exist.

"The good thing about the digital age is I was able to drop that game in the trash can and empty the trash right away," the Sabres coach said Wednesday. "It went up in a little puff of smoke. I didn't review it, I didn't watch it, I didn't want to."

After all, why dwell on the negative? This time of year has always been exciting in HSBC Arena. College students are coming home for winter break, and friends and relatives are visiting for the holidays. A good portion usually buys tickets to a Sabres game or two, livening up the arena atmosphere.

There are certain to be a few out-of-town visitors tonight, but only those who were lucky enough to find tickets. And they will merely add to the ambience, not create it. The arena has been festive since opening night, and the Sabres will have their 14th straight sellout.

"I think our crowd and our fans have given us a big boost in this building," Ruff said. "It's fun to play in front of that energy as a player. Whether it's this time of year or three weeks ago, I've likened it a lot of nights to playoff-type energy in the building. That does a lot for the home team, and it squashes the opposition a lot of the time."

The visitors are coming to Buffalo at a good time. The Sabres have just finished their season-high five-game road trip and are settling in for a long home stretch. From now through Jan. 1, the Sabres play seven of their nine games in HSBC Arena.

The Sabres host Ottawa on Saturday and Montreal on Tuesday. After a two-game trip to Nashville and St. Louis late next week, Buffalo closes 2006 and starts 2007 with home games against Washington, Carolina, Atlanta and the New York Islanders.

Only single seats remain for every contest.

"It's nice to be back home," Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said. "It seems like we've been on the road for two months now, so it's going to be nice to see our fans again."

Rookie defenseman Nathan Paetsch is certainly looking forward to tonight. His parents are taking advantage of the holiday break and flew in Wednesday from Saskatchewan.

"It's great," Paetsch said. "My mom and dad have never seen me play an NHL game live before, so I'm really excited about that. Things like that make it an extra special time."

All that good will should stick around as long as the Sabres play like they did Tuesday. They won in New Jersey for the first time in four seasons with their best defensive effort of the season.

Contrast that to last Thursday when the Sabres faced the Panthers. Buffalo was slow, sloppy and seemed uninterested.

"It's something that's in the back of our minds," Sabres right wing Jason Pominville said. "It was probably our worst game in a while. They played well, they skated hard, and we had trouble handling them.

"It's been a little while since we've been here, so with the fans it should be an exciting game. Obviously, it's something that we mentioned, and we'll be ready for it."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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