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Rivet finds home in captain's quarters

Folks in Sabreland have become accustomed to their captains making a difference. Chris Drury's legend was built on last-second goals. When Daniel Briere scored, it was often a game-winner or flashy play.

Buffalo was waiting for Craig Rivet's moment. The defenseman has been solid in his first season in town, providing grit and wisdom to a team needing both. But knee and shoulder injuries prevented him from playing to his full capabilities, prevented him from making a lasting impact.

Then came Friday night. Facing the San Jose team that traded him away last summer, he made the difference Buffalo expects its captains to make.

Rivet recorded a career-high three assists, none bigger than the final one. With the clock ticking toward zero and the Sabres needing a tying goal, Rivet stepped into his shot and let the puck fly. When Jason Pominville deflected it home, Rivet raised his arm, smiled broadly and accepted hugs and high-fives from all around.

The Sabres wanted -- needed? -- a victory for their town, and Rivet helped provide it. The spotlight was on him. The 34-year-old could have talked about personal redemption, how good it felt to beat his former team. He could have talked about being the star, how good it felt to shake off earlier woes.

But that wouldn't be Rivet.

"The sweetest feeling is getting the two points," he said. "The race is so tight that obviously personal things are not the important thing. It's for this team to move forward and have success. We had a huge win."

Rivet and the Sabres get a chance to build on it tonight when the Carolina Hurricanes make a 6 p.m. visit to HSBC Arena. As usual, it will be all about the Sabres getting two points, not Rivet adding to his points total, as he's done in six of the past 10 games.

"Some guys will say, 'It's a team thing,' but in the back of their mind they're thinking, 'Man, I wish I would have had a goal,' " Sabres defenseman Chris Butler said after Saturday's practice in Amherst Pepsi Center. "You look at him, and every night it's two points, whether you're playing San Jose, Chicago, Detroit. It doesn't matter whether you're playing Montreal, who he played for as well.

"Every night it's two points, every night it's a chance for us to climb in the standings. I think that's the way we've approached it recently."

That, too, is part of Rivet's influence. The team elected him captain because it thought highly of his experience. He's sharing it.

"One of my good buddies from college, Matt Carle, was in San Jose with him last year," said Butler, Rivet's defense partner. "When [Rivet] got traded to Buffalo, one of the first things [Carle] said was, 'Go introduce yourself to Craig. He's a great guy. He was very helpful to me in San Jose as a young defenseman.' He's done a really nice job. He's been awesome toward me.

"Craig in the locker room and the type of mentality he brings, he makes sure that not only do you hold yourself accountable, but you hold everyone else accountable, whether you're a five-year guy, a 10-year guy or a first-year guy. We're all in it together. It's all about making sure that you're doing your job and you're not taking any shortcuts. He makes sure no one does that."

Rivet has become a regular on the ice and the score sheet. He has one goal and eight assists during this 10-game stretch.

He's also absorbed ice time with several regulars out, skating at least 20:37 in eight of the contests. He played 24:46 against the Sharks, with one of his assists coming on a power play that needed to get out of a rut.

"He made some nice plays on the power play and got rewarded for it," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It was a night where he was involved in a lot of facets of the game."

He's a captain in Buffalo. It's kind of expected.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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