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Rangers, Sabres look to avoid slow starts again

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres are both looking to get back on track following particularly disappointing outings on Tuesday night.

On Thursday, the teams will meet at 7:30 p.m. in Buffalo in a nationally televised game.

The Sabres (20-20-9) went into the All-Star break in the midst of one of their best stretches of the season. Following three straight overtime wins and a hard-luck 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars -- in which the Sabres saw two potential third-period goals disallowed in controversial fashion -- the Sabres were thinking they were well on their way toward a late-season playoff push.

Buffalo's first game out of the All-Star break, however, carried none of that momentum forward. The Sabres fell to Montreal 5-2 in a defeat that saw the Canadiens jump out to a 5-0 lead before surrendering two goals late in the third period to avoid the shutout. Max Pacioretty had a hat trick for Montreal.

"It's one game," Sabres center Jack Eichel said, according to the team's website. "It's a tough one but what are you going to do about it now? We ... play another game on Thursday so I think we put it behind us. We obviously know we didn't play well. I think it'll be important for us to go back to the drawing board, forget about this one, put it behind us. We know the way we have to play as a team to be successful."

Dmitry Kulikov and Brian Gionta scored for Buffalo.

"It wasn't as if it was 19 chances to zero," Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma said via the team's website. "We had plenty of opportunities, but we played into their speed game. They played a fast game, we handed them the puck and they capitalized on a lot of the chances they had."

The Rangers (31-18-1), meanwhile, can draw some inspiration from their attempted comeback against Columbus on Tuesday night. Like the Sabres, however, they fell into big hole that was ultimately too much to overcome.

New York was facing a 6-0 deficit after surrendering four goals in the second period but did score four goals in the third in the 6-4 loss.

"We have to understand it's such a big learning moment for us," Rangers center Derek Stepan told the team's website. "Teams are just too good to take a 10-minute stretch like that. You're going to get killed every time. We've got to stop doing that ... They made us pay in that 10 minutes."

Stepan is tied for the team lead in points with 38 (12 goals, 26 assists) alongside Mats Zuccarello (9 goals, 29 assists).

Thursday will be the third and final game between the two teams this season. Despite the difference in the standings, the Sabres won each of the previous two meetings. Buffalo picked up a 4-3 home win against New York on Dec. 1 and a 4-1 road win to open up the new year on Jan. 3.

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