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Red-hot Sabres have veteran defenceman Numminen feeling young again

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Red-hot Sabres have veteran defenceman Numminen feeling young again

The Canadian Press
By:

The Sabres are off to the best start in franchise history and have set an NHL record by winning eight straight road games to start the season.

And the 38-year-old Numminen is happily recalling his decision to continue his career. He contemplated retirement during the NHL lockout two years ago.

"I'm just in the moment right now," the veteran of 18 NHL seasons said after practice Tuesday. "I don't have to look back. I don't have to look ahead. I don't have to worry about next year."

Buffalo's 12-1-1 start represents Numminen's reward for perseverance after spending his first 15 seasons with the Winnipeg-Phoenix franchise.

"It's been really refreshing," Numminen said of his second season with Buffalo. "It keeps the old man young."

His fountain of youth is a Sabres team continuing to make dents in the NHL record book and eager to build off last season's finish. That's when Buffalo lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to eventual Stanley Cup champion Carolina.

After opening this season with 10 straight wins to match the league mark set by Toronto in 1993, the Sabres have a record to call their own.

With a 4-3 overtime victory over the Rangers at New York on Sunday, the Sabres topped the mark for most road wins to start a season. Three teams had 7-0 starts, most recently Detroit last year.

Buffalo, which hosts Florida on Friday, can continue the streak at Philadelphia on Saturday.

The league record for consecutive road wins in one season is 12, set by the Red Wings last spring. The Sabres' current streak is one short of the franchise mark, also set last season.

To put the Sabres' run in perspective, their eight road victories are one fewer than St. Louis had all last season when they finished with the NHL's worst record.

Buffalo has won 12 straight on the road, dating to last season, but the NHL doesn't recognize streaks that span seasons.

That doesn't matter to the Sabres.

The win at New York was more important to them because it followed Buffalo's first regulation loss, a 4-1 defeat to Toronto on Saturday.

"Losing against the Leafs stings," co-captain Daniel Briere said. "The important part was to refocus and get back to winning."

As has been the Sabres habit, they did it by coming from behind. Buffalo erased a 3-1 deficit in the second period, and Briere capped the win four minutes into overtime.

Buffalo has rallied to win seven games this season. That includes overcoming two-goal deficits four times and coming back from a 4-1 deficit to beat Boston 5-4 in a shootout last week.

"That's the sign of a good team," Briere said. "But it's also the sign of a good team that has to play better throughout the game, not just after you're falling behind by two goals."

Slow starts aside, Numminen is impressed by the Sabres' ability to keep fighting.

"You kind of start thinking, 'Are we going to do it today or not?' And it just starts happening," he said. "I think with the confidence level right now, if we're trailing in the third period, we still think we've got a chance."

Numminen is approaching a significant milestone of his own. The Finnish-born player is coming off his 1,249th career game, three short of breaking countryman Jari Kurri's record for most by a European-trained player.

Numminen has an opportunity to set the mark when Buffalo plays at Carolina on Monday.

"It's an honor to be mentioned with great players like Kurri," said Numminen, who grew up idolizing the former Edmonton Oilers star. "I'm really thrilled about it. I'm just thankful to be able to play this long. It's a great honour."

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Red-hot Sabres have veteran defenceman Numminen feeling young again