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Stafford could replace ailing Sabres forward Zubrus in Game 5

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Stafford could replace ailing Sabres forward Zubrus in Game 5

The Canadian Press
By:

Zubrus, battling a suspected groin problem, played only six shifts in Game 4. Rookie forward Drew Stafford could replace him in the lineup. "Well, we haven't decided, (but) I think it's the way we're leaning right now," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. "There's still a possibility that Dainius could play."

Not that Stafford can't help. He had 13 goals in 41 regular-season games after being called up this season.

"He's got some great natural instincts," said Ruff. "You can't teach or tell him what to do in those situations. Those are gifts that he has that he needs to use when he has a chance inside the system."

Stafford skated on a line with Adam Mair and Ales Kotalik at practice Friday. Daniel Briere remained between Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville, Chris Drury centred Tim Connolly and Derek Roy, while Paul Gaustad was between Maxim Afinogenov and Thomas Vanek.

Roy, Drury and Connolly, three natural centres, were put together for Game 4.

"I can't break up Connolly, Roy and Drury," said Ruff. "That connection just seemed to click. I'm not going to bust that up."

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TALKING HOOPS: In addition to his own playoff picture, Senators coach Bryan Murray has found himself keeping an eye on the NBA's post-season stories, too, and the Chicago Bulls' story caught his attention.

With the Bulls trailing the Detroit Pistons 3-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Chicago threw a good scare into their opponents by winning the next two games of the series before finally bowing out in Game 6 on Thursday. It's a situation he's keen to see the Senators avoid.

No NBA team has ever rallied from 3-0 down to win a series and only two NHL clubs have done it, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders. The Sabres are attempting to become the third.

"Watching the NBA, you see teams ahead 3-0 and teams are coming back and looking to make it a seven-game series on them and that's not an impossible task," said Murray.

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NO GIVEAWAYS: One statistic stood out in Game 4: the Senators with 15 giveaways to Buffalo's 10, the first time the Sabres were on the better end of that one in the series.

"I think when you get the lead, a (losing) team has a tendency to try more things try to get back in the game," said Ruff. "'I think obviously when you get down by a couple, you're going to err on the side of being more aggressive and trying to make more plays."

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MILLER TIME: Ryan Miller stopped 62 of 65 shots in the two games at Ottawa, a major reason why the Sabres are still alive.

"I think he really sensed that we were struggling in Game 3 and really tried to make a difference," Ruff said of Miller's 31-save effort in the 1-0 loss.

In Game 4, a 3-2 win by the Sabres, Ruff said his netminder saved the game in the late stages when the Senators had back-to-back power plays.

"He basically said, 'Don't worry about it, I got you guys covered."'

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WHEN THE SCHU DROPS: Hidden by the loss in Game 4 for the Senators was the effort of a couple of the team's unsung heroes, Christoph Schubert and Antoine Vermette - two guys playing out of position.

Schubert, a defenceman by trade who's primarily played at forward this season, racked up seven hits Wednesday. Buffalo's Adam Mair was the next closest with four.

"Schubie had seven hits the other night. You've got recognize that," Murray said. "This guy was a big-time hitter, a big-time player for us."

Meanwhile, Vermette, a centre who usually plays at left wing to make room for Chris Kelly in the middle, won 12 of 14 faceoffs, also tops on the night. Overall in the playoffs, he's won 153 of 252 faceoffs (60.71), which is best among any of the final four teams.

"For a guy that for a big part of the year played left wing and he's only (taking them) in the playoffs and on key faceoffs and the penalty kill during the year, he's been very good," Murray said.

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HOME COOKING: Despite losing both their homes games to open the series, the Sabres can't wait to feed off the HSBC Arena crowd Saturday.

"Going go back to Game 2 (a 4-3 overtime loss), there was only a little bit of that game you didn't like," said Ruff. "You don't like the fact you end up losing it, but the energy in the building and the way we came out in that building was absolutely tremendous, and I think we have to feed off of that.

"I really sense some of that excitement about, again, playing in front of our home crowd, getting a chance to come back home and play in front of our home crowd tomorrow."

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With files from CP sportswriter Chris Yzerman in Ottawa.

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Stafford could replace ailing Sabres forward Zubrus in Game 5