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Sabres happy to be at Winter Classic, but focused on securing two points vs. Rangers

The Buffalo Sabres practice at Citi Field on

The Buffalo Sabres practice at Citi Field on December 31, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The team will take part in the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Years Day. Credit: Getty Images / Bruce Bennett

Beyond the buildup, the weather, the special jerseys, the national stage and the larger crowds, Jason Pominville recalled one thing that can be overlooked in a Winter Classic: It’s a regular-season matchup and points count.

Pominville, who played in the first Classic in January 2008, when the Sabres lost to the Penguins 2-1 in a shootout on Sidney Crosby’s goal in snowy Buffalo, said Sunday: “I believe we missed the playoffs by one point, so it could’ve been that shootout that made the difference.”

Time can diminish memories: That season, the Sabres finished four points out of the last playoff spot — the top eight finishers, including the three division winners, made the post-season then. But Pomminville’s underlying premise remains accurate. A couple points can make a difference in the final standings or provide a springboard to better times.

Both the Sabres and Rangers can use the points when the puck drops Monday: Coach Phil Housley’s squad stumbled out of the gates, but found its footing in the last few weeks. The Rangers are in a wild-card spot in the East, but face fierce competition in the Metropolitan Division.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Housley said after practice at Citi Field. “Guys were energetic today; I think our team is moving in the right direction. We’d like to be in a better position at this point in the season…Each situation brings its own unique presentation as far as what we’ve got to do to win a hockey game. We’ve got a little bit of confidence right now, so hopefully this situation will give us a boost.”

Some players just liked the location. “Just being around where I played is going to be fun,” said former Islander Kyle Okposo.

To be sure, temperature, wind and sun glare present an unusual situation, especially for players who haven’t played in an NHL outdoor game and need to adapt.

“The elements are in play,” said Jack Eichel, 21, who grew up in North Chelmsford, Mass. playing pond hockey. “Sticks are going to be harder, hands aren’t as warm as they would be. Obviously the beginning of the game will be pretty simple, and you just try to figure out what’s working and what’s not.”

Housley added with a grin: “Hopefully we’ll have the wind at our back all three periods.”

New York Sports