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Boyes scores as game streak hits 500

Brad Boyes still remembers being a teenager in Erie, Pa., and his coach telling him that he wouldn't be playing that night. It stung.

Fast forward 14 years to Tuesday night. When the puck dropped for the Sabres' 4-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Boyes was in full uniform and ready to go -- for the 500th straight time. The winger became just the 20th player in NHL history to reach the milestone and the second to do it while wearing Blue and Gold, joining Sabres legend Craig Ramsay.

Boyes scored his first goal of the season just 2:31 in to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead. It was the first time he'd found the net in 18 regular-season games.

"I've always wanted to play every chance I got," Boyes said in First Niagara Center. "My first year in junior [1998], I was 16 and scratched early in the season, a couple games in. I remember watching it and saying, 'I never want to sit here and watch a game again.' "

The 29-year-old has never had to watch in the NHL. He played one game for San Jose during the 2003-04 season. Since coming up full time for Boston in 2005-06, he's played every time the Bruins, St. Louis Blues or the Sabres have taken the ice. He actually played more than a full regular-season schedule last year, dressing 83 times for the Blues and the Sabres.

"I've been lucky with certain times off, injuries at certain times," Boyes said. "I was able to recover before the next game. It's just allowed me to play every night, which is what I want to do."

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Center Paul Gaustad was back on the ice for the Sabres after skipping Monday's skate to rest his hip flexor ailment. He did the same thing last week in Tampa Bay, taking Friday's practice off to play in Saturday's game. It will be a regular occurrence until he's 100 percent.

"The schedule that we have right now, it doesn't have enough time to heal totally," said Gaustad, who usually starts feeling a twinge during the third period. "It's just going to be on and off till it gets better. It heals quite a bit, from feeling it when you walk one day to the next not feeling it at all."

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Forward Jochen Hecht (concussion) missed his eighth straight game to start the season after not being cleared to play during a visit to the doctor Monday.

"He's still not ready, but it was a good visit," said coach Lindy Ruff, who added there is still no timeframe for Hecht's return. "It's just based on getting him involved, keeping him involved."

Center Matt Ellis, meanwhile, dressed for the first time. He replaced injured forward Tyler Ennis, who is week-to-week with an ankle sprain. Ellis centered Boyes and left wing Cody McCormick, with Ellis and McCormick earning assists on Boyes' early goal.

* * *

Ruff changed his power-play units to start the game, promoting Ville Leino and Boyes while dropping the injured Ennis and Derek Roy. The first group featured Boyes up front with Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, with Marc-Andre Gragnani and Christian Ehrhoff at the point. Leino, Luke Adam and Drew Stafford were the forwards on the second group, with Jordan Leopold and Tyler Myers working the blue line.

The Sabres' power play started the season 3 for 8 but scored just once in 14 attempts during the previous five games. They went 0 for 3 against the Bolts.

"Right now there's not a lot going on there," Ruff said. "[Roy has] struggled a little bit and Luke's done a pretty good job, so we'd like to keep him involved."

* * *

A presidential summit in a parking lot just outside the arena resulted in the team welcoming new lights to the front of the building. Sabres President Ted Black and First Niagara Bank President and CEO John Koelmel flipped the switched that illuminated the huge "First Niagara Center" letters that were recently installed.

email: jvogl@buffnews.com

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