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Major renovation rejuvenating MSG

The Buffalo Sabres have been coming to Madison Square Garden since their first season in the National Hockey League but the building that's long been dubbed "The World's Most Famous Arena" has never looked like this.

The Sabres played their first game here Saturday night since The Garden was closed for 20 weeks in the summer for the initial major phase of a six-year, $850 million renovation. When it's done, it will completely remake a facility that opened in 1968 and currently ranks as the oldest in the NHL.

More than 1,200 workers crammed about nine months of changes into four months in the summer. The entire lower seating bowl was changed, as was the service level that includes locker rooms for the Knicks, Rangers and visiting teams. That area is actually Level 5 of the building, which sits atop Pennsylvania Station, one of the city's key transportation hubs.

Also included in this year's work were 20 new courtside-rinkside suites that have been rented at about $1 million each annually and a private club in that area that allows fans to watch teams leave and enter the ice or court. MSG Network has a studio in that area that regularly shows that new wrinkle during Knicks and Rangers telecasts.

Concourses have been doubled and tripled in width on the main level and walls have been removed, replaced by soaring glass with views of Manhattan.

Similar work will be done next summer on the upper concourse. In two years, the main change will be the addition of more suites and signature skybridges over the playing surfaces.

Of course, food is a major centerpiece of the work as well. There are new high-end restaurants but the concession offerings for the common fan have been dramatically changed as well.

The world-famous Carnegie Deli has opened off site for the first time, selling its corned beef, pastrami and turkey sandwiches ($14.95). Famed New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a chicken stand featuring grilled sandwiches topped with thai mayonnaise for $13.95.

There are premium sausage sandwiches, lobster and shrimp rolls, a variety of sushi platters, chopped brisket and prime rib sandwiches, a kosher stand and a gluten-free stand.

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The Rangers traded seldom-used winger Wojtek Wolski to the Florida Panthers Saturday afternoon for a third-round pick in the 2013 draft and minor-league defenseman Mike Vernace.

The move frees up the remainder of Wolski's $3.8 million cap hit, ostensibly if they want to deal with Columbus for star winger Rick Nash.

Wolski played in just nine games and had only three assists, missing 31 games due to injury and 18 as a healthy scratch. Center Brandon Dubinsky, widely rumored to be going to Columbus in any Nash deal, was in the lineup meaning no deal was coming down Saturday.

Meanwhile, Sabres winger Brad Boyes sat out his second straight game while Corey Tropp again took his place in the lineup. Boyes skated on his own Saturday morning and should be ready for next week's Western road trip, coach Lindy Ruff said before the game.

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Ruff on the Sabres' ability to block out trade talk as Monday's deadline creeps closer: "There's nothing we can do about all the noise on the outside except just play. Our guys have done a pretty good job of it. Sometimes I think when you start talking about that, you're offering up an excuse for any player. My stance usually is to not even talk about it, just play and stick to the game plan."

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Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller entered Saturday having allowed no goals or just one in six of his last 13 games (one in relief) while going 8-2-2. Miller's shutout streak against Boston ended at 109 minutes, 1 second with Zdeno Chara's third-period goal Friday. The Sabres and Bruins had combined for 21 goals in their first three meetings then combined for just two in 65 minutes Friday. Ville Leino played his 200th career game Saturday. The Rangers are in first place in the East this deep in the season for the first time since March 15, 1996.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com