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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sabres, Saturday January 1st

The Bruins (20-11-5) will ring in the new year with their fourth stop on their current five-game road trip, going up against a divisional rival, the Buffalo Sabres (15-18-4) tonight.

Boston finished up a reasonably successful month of December with an 8-3-3 record, wrapping up the year Thursday with a 3-2 shootout loss to Atlanta. Nevertheless, the B’s find themselves heading into 2011 atop the Northeast Division, a spot they surely hope they can hold on to heading into the playoffs.

For Buffalo, 2010 was largely a disappointing year. First was their early exit from last season’s playoffs (at the hands of the Bruins), then their inconsistent start to this current season. The Sabres went 6-5-1 in December, and sit on the outside looking in of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They rank 12th in the East right now, 10 points behind 8th-ranked Montreal.

As always with divisional games, there are plenty of storylines to cover, so let’s get right to it with the pre-game notes…

- Tonight marks the fourth meeting between these two teams this season. The Bruins took the first two, winning 5-2 and 3-2 games, before Buffalo snuck away with the last game, 3-2, back on December 15th.

- December 15th happens to be the last time we saw Tuukka Rask get a start in goal. Coincidentally, Rask will get the nod again tonight, snapping Tim Thomas’s seven-game start streak. Rask is 2-7-1 so far this year.

- Rask will likely go up against Buffalo’s Ryan Miller (13-12-3, 2.62GAA). On Tuesday, Miller notched his 200th career victory, topping the Oilers in Edmonton, 4-2. Miller ranks second, only behind Dominic Hasek, in franchise history with those 200 wins. Miller’s backups this season have been the veteran Patrick Lalime (0-4-0, 3.03GAA) and the youngster Jhonas Enroth (2-2-1, 2.90GAA).

- The Sabres suffered a tough loss right before Christmas. That’s when they lost their team’s leading scorer, center Derek Roy, for the remainder of the season with a torn quad tendon. Patrick Kaleta also remains out, nursing an upper-body injury. Tim Connolly, who recently had reconstructive surgery on his nose, is expected to return to the Sabres’ lineup this evening.

- Gregory Campbell missed his first game in a Bruins uniform Thursday with an undisclosed illness. If he can’t go tonight (he’s a game-time decision), look for Daniel Paille to again fill in for him on the fourth line, while Brad Marchand skates with the Bergeron-Recchi line.

- After Roy (10G, 25A) on the score sheet, the Sabres are led by winger Thomas Vanek (13G, 12A) and defenseman Jordan Leopold (9G, 12A). Those are the only Sabres over 20 points. In comparison, the Bruins boast six skaters with 20 or more points this season.

- The Sabres are able to play at home this evening due to it being the only off day for the World Junior Hockey Championship tournament, being played at HSBC Arena. The preliminary round wrapped up Friday, with the U.S. team earning the top spot in Group A. That gives them a bye to the semifinal round, where they will take on the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between Canada and Switzerland. That semifinal round game will be on Monday night at 7:30pm, and can be seen on NHL Network. The tournament wraps up on Wednesday with the pair of medal round games, also being shown on NHL Network.

- Lastly, just a programming note about the league’s annual Winter Classic. Due to a rain storm in Pittsburgh, today’s outdoor game being played at Heinz Field has been pushed back from its original 1pm start to instead begin at 8pm tonight. The game can still be found on NBC, featuring Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals taking on Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

- The Sabres are in the middle of a very strange stretch of their schedule. Earlier in the week, they were out west for a pair of back-to-back games in Calgary Monday and Edmonton on Tuesday. They head all the way back east to play tonight’s one home game, then next week, they find themselves back out west, with stops in Colorado, San Jose, and Phoenix.

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