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Sabres return to regularly scheduled programming

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The reality show cameras are gone. So are the gobs of media piling into the locker room for two straight days in New York. There won't be 40,000 people in the stands, fire plumes signaling their entrance to the ice or celebrity musical acts mugging for pictures in the dressing room pregame and playing for the crowd between periods. No more Doc Emrick, Pierre McGuire or NHL Network in the house either.

Welcome to the rest of the Buffalo Sabres' season.

The Winter Classic is history, likely to serve as a major beacon for a 2017-18 campaign that will almost certainly end with Buffalo outside the Stanley Cup playoffs for the seventh straight year. The Sabres got home Monday night after their 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Citi Field, spent Tuesday on a day off with their families and flew here Wednesday morning for practice to carry on with their schedule.

The Sabres are 10-20-9 heading into Thursday night's game against the Minnesota Wild in XCel Energy Center, and they hit the halfway point of the season against surprising Central Division leader Winnipeg on Friday night in Bell MTS Place.

Now that the buildup to New Year's Day is over, will the Eastern Conference's last-place team struggle to keep its focus on the day-to-day tasks at hand?

"Now that it's over, I'm not too worried about that on how I feel mentally and physically," winger Evander Kane said after Wednesday's workout. "Headed into it, the buildup and magnitude of that game is going to be tough to match the rest of the way but you quickly realize you've got to get geared right back up. We're playing some good teams here on the road."

When the Sabres lost the 2008 Winter Classic in a shootout to Pittsburgh at then-Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Jan. 1 game came early in a string of 10 straight losses. From Dec. 26, 2007-Jan. 16, 2008, the Sabres went 0-5-5 as all the extra-time losses were in shootouts. The streak ruined their season as Buffalo finished with 90 points, four out of the playoffs.

Back then, of course, the game was in its first year and didn't have the hype it does now. And that Sabres team, filled with players that were veterans of the Eastern Conference final the previous two seasons, weren't able to come down off the big-game glare.

Coach Phil Housley insists he's not worried about any post-Classic hangover with this group in spite of its lack of experience in the spotlight.

"It's just business as usual," Housley said. "We had a day off yesterday to calm down from the Winter Classic game and I thought we had terrific energy in practice today, really good execution. They understand what they're up against. This is a very good hockey team we'll be playing and we have to be ready from the start."

Housley has been encouraged by the fact his team has points in nine of its last 12 games (going 4-3-5) and liked their response to the 2-0 deficit they fell into over the first nine minutes on Monday.

"We didn't get our feet moving early but once we settled in and played our style, I thought we were very effective out there," Housley said. "We've got to continue to do that. We have to do things quicker in the offensive zone. Anytime we're coming up the ice, our 'D' have got to get up the ice, be in support of the forecheck and make sure we're slamming the wall."

The Sabres had their forecheck going as they got first-minute goals from Sam Reinhart in the second period and Rasmus Ristolainen in the third to forge the 2-2 tie before losing on J.T. Miller's power-play goal in overtime.

"It was a lot of fun," said defenseman Zach Bogosian. "Flying back to Buffalo that night, you get home, sit down and really think about how special a moment that was. Not only for the guys playing in the game but for the families that were there and the fans that came to support us. It was an all-around great weekend.

"The first 10 minutes we were kind of standing around watching. They came out pretty good there. They were flying, getting on pucks. Toward the end of the first, we started playing more of our game. ... We stayed with a dog-on-bone mentality and that's the way we have to play."

This three-game trip, which concludes Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia, will end the Sabres' seven-game run away from Buffalo caused by the World Junior Championship taking over KeyBank Center.

"The overall experience of it was pretty special, pretty cool," Kane said of the afternoon in the home of the New York Mets. "It was kind of like an NFL week. Everybody is getting geared up the whole time for this game. The crowd was sold out. It was pretty fun to be a part of and something I'd love to do again hopefully down the road."

"You definitely learn from certain experiences throughout your hockey career and that will be an experience that I'll remember for the rest of my life," Bogosian said. "Use it as a learning experience and as something to look back on."

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