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Tip of cap brings Stafford back

Drew Stafford is back, and this time it's for good.

The Buffalo Sabres recalled their rookie forward Monday, two days after sending him to Rochester because he wouldn't fit under the salary cap. The cap disappears in the postseason, so that means Stafford won't. He has shuttled back and forth to the Americans numerous times because of the Sabres' cap woes.

"Obviously, I'm fortunate to get a chance to stick around up here," Stafford said in the Amherst Pepsi Center. "I'm going to take advantage of that opportunity and try to play as well as I can and help the team out wherever they want me to play."

Bringing back Stafford was a no-brainer for the Sabres, despite the fact it leaves them with only one more recall while Rochester is still playing (they can freely summon minor-leaguers on an emergency basis if injuries strike). Stafford was the NHL's Rookie of the Month in March and finished the regular season with 13 goals and 14 assists in 41 games.

"He played very well for us, and we really felt that he can be an important piece of our puzzle," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "He's played very well at both ends of the rink, and he's shown a lot of maturity."|

Stafford was one of just seven Sabres to skate Monday, as the rest appeared only for a 10-minute meeting to set the team's postseason rules. The rookie has fit in well on two scoring lines, meshing with centers Chris Drury and Derek Roy at different junctures, and he'll likely find out today where he'll be skating when the playoffs start Thursday.

"I'm preparing myself to be ready to play whatever kind of role they want me to play," said Stafford, a first-year pro who's eager to experience postseason intensity. "I couldn't tell you firsthand what it's like. I'm just basing it on what I've seen and what the guys are telling me when they talk about. I'm ready. I'm ready for it."

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There is talk from hockey purists -- especially those in Toronto -- that a playoff position should not be decided by a shootout. The Sabres will face the New York Islanders rather than the Maple Leafs in the first round because the Isles picked up two points Sunday in the fan-friendly extra session.

Oh well, says Ruff.

"The other teams could have done something about it before then," he said. "They knew that shootouts were going to be important during the year -- a point here, a point there -- and it doesn't bother me. It's part of our game. I think it's something that the fans really enjoy. I have never been a real big fan of the shootout, but I think the game needs that kind of excitement."

Though wary of the Islanders, co-captain Daniel Briere is happy it's not the Leafs because the Sabres are assured of home-ice advantage when they're in HSBC Arena. Games with Toronto often turn the foot of Main Street into Air Canada Centre South.

"That's the worry if we would have played the Maple Leafs, you don't know in our building how it was going to go," Briere said. "So I'm excited to start the series and just see the craziness in our fans' eyes again before the game or in the game or after the game."

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The Uptown Girl will have her hands full with a vampire and an FBI agent during the Sabres-Islanders series.

NHL.com has launched celebrity blogs for the playoffs, and three of the writers will be watching this matchup. David Boreanaz, the Buffalo native best known for his television work as Angel on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and the spin-off "Angel," will be tracking the Sabres, as will William Fichtner, who was raised in Buffalo and stars as Special Agent Alexander Mahone on Fox's "Prison Break."

The Islanders have a backer in supermodel Christie Brinkley, former wife of Long Islander Billy Joel, who penned the song "Uptown Girl" about her. Coincidentally, the Sabres vacated HSBC Arena for the Amherst Pepsi Center today and Monday because Joel has a concert downtown tonight.

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Martin Biron's pads were barely dry from beating his former team Sunday when he signed on to do television work. The Philadelphia netminder and former Sabre has agreed to be a playoff analyst for TSN, the Canadian version of ESPN.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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