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Take It Outside
Stage is set for Sabres-Penguins outdoor extravaganza

ORCHARD PARK, NY (LGS) — The confetti is all over the floor, the champagne glasses are empty and the kisses have been made. That's right, the ball has dropped bringing in the New Year!

Now, the puck is ready to drop.

Folks, the game of the season is at hand as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres take it outside for the AMP Energy Winter Classic. The 1 p.m. faceoff at Ralph Wilson Stadium will be televised nationally in the U.S. on NBC and in Canada on CBC and RDS. Buffalo fans can hear Rick Jeanneret and Harry Neale call the game on WGR 550. The game will also be broadcast nationally on Westwood One radio and XM satellite radio.

The game is at the tail end of a home-and-home series with Pittsburgh, with the first one ending with a 2-0 Penguins victory Saturday.

Colby Armstrong scored for Pittsburgh in the second period, while Evgeni Malkin added an empty netter to wreck another attempted comeback for Buffalo.

Ryan Miller made 23 saves in the losing effort, while Ty Conklin – Buffalo's backup goaltender after the trade deadline last season – shut out the Sabres despite a Buffalo flurry late in the third.

Conklin finished the game with 26 saves.

But a flurry of Sabres may be the least of his worries as the game commences outside. Forecasts are calling for snow and wind as the game goes on. The weather will be a constant factor, as Buffalo football fans can attest to.

"We can adjust for it, but it's going to do what it's going to do," said Miller after a practice Monday on the outdoor rink. "I guess we're hearing it's going to be a little chilly and a little windy. Both teams are going to have to contend with either going with the wind when they're skating or they're going to have it at their back and feel like they're flying."

To counteract any advantage one team will have in the third period due to wind direction, league officials confirmed that the teams will switch ends midway through the third period.

Buffalo (19-16-2) enters the game mired in a three-game losing streak including Saturday's loss to the Penguins. This follows the team's season-high six-game win streak before the Christmas break.

"We'd like to have won those games," said Lindy Ruff following Monday's practice. "You know, if you look at the big picture we've been playing good hockey. We went through a pretty tough stretch. We lost a tough game right after Christmas. We lost in the shootout in a real tough game. Then we lost another real tight game.

"You know, it's not that we're playing terrible hockey. We just haven't played good enough to win them."

After a resurgent month of December, Buffalo will look forward to the new year with a new captain. Brian Campbell will relinquish his captaincy to defense partner Jaroslav Spacek, who will captain a team for the first time in his career.

Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville will wear the assistant letters.

Pittsburgh (20-16-2) enters the game tied with Philadelphia for sixth in the Eastern Conference thanks to their win Saturday, with Buffalo a mere two points behind with a game in hand.

However, the win was costly for the young team, as veteran leader Gary Roberts left the ice with a broken left leg.

The play was a result of a botched offensive rush by Buffalo's Tim Connolly. Connolly fell and slid into Roberts. As he fell, Roberts' leg was caught under Connolly's body.

The gritty forward remained on the ice until his teammates assisted him off the ice to the dressing room.

Buffalo's next game will be in HSBC Arena as they host Ottawa Jan. 4. Ottawa leads the season series 2-1 following their latest victory here Dec. 26.

Fun Fact of the Game
Only four players taking part in the Winter Classic have played actual outdoor games for organized teams. Georges Laraque and Ty Conklin participated in the Heritage Classic between Montreal and Edmonton, while Ryan Miller and Pittsburgh's Adam Hall were teammates at Michigan State when they played outdoors against Michigan.

By Timothy Chipp, LGS Columnist
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