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Sabres open regular season against Eastern Conference rival Hurricanes

Co-captain Daniel Briere wouldn't mind witnessing the celebration, using the experience as a reminder of what the Sabres are shooting for this year. And coach Lindy Ruff hasn't yet determined what the pre-game plans are for Buffalo's season-opener at Raleigh, N.C.

"It wouldn't bother me to see (the celebration)," Ruff said, Tuesday. "But, it's their party, and I don't even know if they want us to be a part of it."

Whether it's watching or waiting, what's clear is Buffalo's new season opens in a familiar setting, in the same arena and against the same team that ended the Sabres' championship hopes in June with a 4-2 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.

"Yeah, it's frustrating, and it's annoying," Numminen said. "But we have to start somewhere."

Briere agreed the memories of the loss still sting, but he wondered whether opening against the defending champions might be beneficial.

"Hopefully ... if we give it all we have this year, we'll be the ones raising the banner next year," Briere said. "We've got to use it as motivation."

As if the Sabres need more.

This is a team that returns 18 players and is being billed as a championship contender this year after winning 52 games last season and handily eliminating Philadelphia and Ottawa in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

It's possible the Sabres could have advanced past Carolina had Buffalo not been undone by a string of injuries. Buffalo played Game 7 minus five regulars, including four of its top six defenceman after stalwart Jay McKee was sidelined by a severe leg infection.

The injuries appeared to catch up to Buffalo, which was unable to hold a 2-1 third-period lead in the decisive game.

Looking back, Ruff believes the Carolina series was decided not so much in Game 7, but rather in Carolina's 4-3 overtime win in Game 5.

Buffalo lost despite out-shooting the Hurricanes 9-4 in the third period and overtime and squandered several golden scoring chances before Cory Stillman converted a power-play chance nine minutes into overtime.

Goaltender Ryan Miller would rather look ahead.

"Why would I want to drag something up?" Miller said. "I want to go out there and start a new year fresh."

Of all the Sabres players that should be the unhappiest about opening against Carolina, it's newcomer, defenceman Jaroslav Spacek. Signed as a free agent in July, Spacek played for Edmonton, the team the Hurricanes beat in Game 7 to win the Cup.

"It's always tough, the memories it brings back," Spacek said. "But you can't control the schedule. It happens. I just forget everything and try to focus on the new season."

Although there's no NHL protocol on what visiting teams are supposed to do in Stanley Cup banner-raising situations, most have elected to stay in the locker room until the celebration is over. Besides not wanting to be party-crashers, teams have used the additional time to stay loose, rather than sitting on the bench.

Curiously, the Hurricanes were in a similar situation a year ago when they opened their season at then-defending champion Tampa Bay. The Hurricanes elected to stay in their room, a decision that's not lost on Ruff, considering how Carolina's season ended.

"We might have to copy what they did because it seemed to work for them," Ruff said with a wink.



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