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Two of America's best goaltenders meet in Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Ryan Miller was worried. The Buffalo Sabres' goaltender was set to meet Olympic legend Jim Craig, and all he could think was his fellow American had come to the conclusion he's nuts.

Craig, who backstopped Team USA to the gold medal in 1980, stopped by to see Miller on Thursday in Tampa Bay. The two most-celebrated U.S. Olympic goalies had never met, though Craig apparently got an all-too-intimate look at the Miller family at the 2010 Games.

"He was in Vancouver, actually sat with some of my cousins and one of our buddies for the first Canada game there," Miller said. "All I heard afterward was the stories about how after every goal they were hugging Jim Craig. If I made a nice save, they're high-fiving Jim Craig.

"I was just shaking my head going, 'Oh, God, I hope Jim Craig doesn't think I'm from a family of lunatics.' "

The duo hit it off, despite Miller's worry. They laughed and exchanged stories, with Craig slipping on Miller's glove and blocker.

"He seems like a great guy," Miller said. "I'm very proud to be part of USA Hockey, and he's forever going to be linked to USA Hockey's greatest moment."

The sense of anguish was there as Miller quickly flashed to falling one goal short of carrying his team to a similar destiny.

"You know, this close," he said.

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The Sabres, who visit the Florida Panthers tonight, altered their routine prior to the 6-2 victory against Tampa Bay on Thursday. They skipped the morning skate and hesitated three minutes before joining the pregame warm-up.

Is that the new routine?

"I don't know," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's my job to think of things to do, and I'm pretty creative when it comes to that kind of stuff."

The coach might need to be creative with his lineup. Tim Connolly was injured Thursday when he got plunked on the foot by a shot, and he took Friday off for treatment.

"He got a little bruise on his foot," Ruff said in BankAtlantic Center. "He couldn't get his skate on very good [Friday], so we'll see how he is [today]."

Drew Stafford, who's missed five games with a groin injury, filled in for Connolly on the line with Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht. The right winger said he's ready to play.

"It feels great," Stafford said. "I'm back to 100 percent."

Ruff normally doesn't tinker with a winning lineup, which would force Stafford to wait another game (unless Connolly can't play). However, the coach says he's backing off that philosophy.

"I'm just at the point where we'll dress what we feel gives us the best chance to win," Ruff said. "If we have somebody who's playing poorly while we're winning, we'll put somebody in. That's just the way I feel right now."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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