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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Sabres, Thursday January 20th

Game number 47 of the season for the Bruins (26-13-7) kicks off tonight at TD Garden, when the B’s host a divisional foe, the Buffalo Sabres (20-20-5).

These two teams have split the season series so far this year, with each team prevailing twice over the other through four meetings. The teams got 2011 off to a rousing start back on New Year’s Day up in Buffalo, with the Sabres edging the B’s in overtime, 7-6. Both teams are coming off wins in their last game, with the B’s completing a home-and-home sweep of the Hurricanes Tuesday night with a 3-2 win in Carolina, after beating up on the ‘Canes in a 7-0 pounding Monday afternoon at the Garden. Buffalo also was victorious Tuesday night, beating the Canadiens 2-1 in overtime. Despite the win, the Sabres still find themselves far out of the playoff picture in the East, currently sitting in 11th place, eight points back of eighth place Atlanta.

As with any divisional rivalry games, there’s plenty to get to before we drop the puck. Let’s not waste any more time…

– Tuesday’s win over Carolina, coupled with the Montreal loss in OT, gives Boston a three-point advantage now over the Habs in the Northeast Division. Montreal sits in seventh place in the East, while the B’s are in a tie with Tampa for the #2 spot. Boston does have a game in hand over Tampa.

– Tim Thomas set a season high mark Tuesday, making 43 saves on his way to the 3-2 victory. It looks like the Vezina Trophy favorite will get a night off tonight though, with Tuukka Rask the first goalie off the ice during the team’s morning skate today.

– Milan Lucic scored the game-winner for the good guys Tuesday, lighting the lamp for the first time in over a month, a 13-game stretch. The goal, which was Lucic’s 17th of the season, matches his career high, set two seasons ago.

– With the pair of wins of Carolina, Boston’s January record improved to 6-2-2. After tonight’s showdown on home ice, they’ll head out for a brief two-game western road trip, stopping in Colorado for a Saturday matinee with the Avalanche (3pm ET), followed by a trip to La-La Land to face off with the Kings Monday night (10:30pm ET). They’ll then make the cross-country trek back to Boston to host the Florida Panthers next Wednesday night. Think of the frequent flyer miles they’re racking up!

– Tonight marks the 256th meeting all-time between these storied rivals, with Boston posting a 116-104-29-6 record against the Sabres. However, thanks to the New Year’s Day one-goal win by Buffalo, the Sabres own the scoring advantage all-time, by a single goal… 828-827.

– Defenseman Andrew Ference should make his return to the Boston lineup tonight after missing the team’s previous three games with an undisclosed injury. Adam McQuaid is likely the odd man out amongst the blue line brigade, as he has been playing through some nagging injuries of his own lately.

– Buffalo will be without hot hand Drew Stafford this evening, as he nurses a mild groin strain. Stafford, who has five goals in his last eight games, has been unbelievably effective against the B’s this season, to the tune of not one, but two hat tricks in his last two meetings with the B’s, Dec. 15th and Jan. 1st. In all, seven of Stafford’s 15 goals this season have come against Boston. I couldn’t be happier to hear about Stafford’s injured groin… I mean, we all love good injured groin talk, right?

– The Sabres’ scoring is led by winger Thomas Vanek (17G, 20A), who has a goal and five assists in his last three games. Derek Roy is next on the Buffalo score sheet (10G, 25A), but he’s out with a season-ending injury. Following Roy is defenseman Jordan Leopold (10G, 16A).

– Goaltending for the Sabres is led by Olympic hero Ryan Miller (18-14-4, 2.67GAA). Miller is expected to get the start this evening, with veteran Patrick Lalime (0-4-0, 3.03GAA) acting as his backup.

– Buffalo’s only representative for the upcoming All Star Weekend will be rookie forward Tyler Ennis. Ennis, who has a goal and an assist in each of his last two games, will join Boston’s Tyler Seguin and 10 other NHL rookies in the Honda SuperSkills competition, being held Saturday the 29th. No Sabres will take part in the All Star Game itself, played the following day.

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