Up next: Patrick Lalime, Tim Connolly and the Buffalo Sabres

Well, well, well.  If it isn't regular season hockey, back for it's valiant return to close out the 2010 season.  For some teams currently sitting in playoff contention, the next month and a half plays out more like a marathon than a sprint.  Sure, the schedule is packed, but the regularity of wins and most importantly consistent hockey can keep any team in the Top 8 (ok, maybe more like the Top 4) in playoff contention.

For others though, mainly teams landing right around the bubble of playoff contention, this is the sprint portion of the race. 

Safe to say, Buffalo and Pittsburgh are two teams currently in marathon mode.  While each sit just a point off from the lead in their respective division, this is potentially where the competition for home ice advantage begins.  Consistent hockey will keep them where they are but phenomenal hockey can really make the difference.  And if there's one thing that's been proven over the years, you'd much rather head into the playoffs winning.  No team, for sake of home ice or morale, wants to back into the playoffs.

Following his outstanding performance in the Olympics, Ryan Miller will receive a much-needed rest on the bench tonight.  When you also consider how poorly he's played against the Penguins this season (eight goals allowed over two games, one of which included an early dismissal in favor of Patrick Lalime), it would seem like the logical decision for head coach Lindy Ruff to go with former Pen Lalime instead. 

There's something really strange about continuing the season again from this point.  Under normal circumstances we'd just be coming out of the all-star break, bored to tears by the over-marketing of the league's best in a game of shinny played in front of some random fan base in some random city somewhere in North America.  But this time around it almost feels like we're coming out of two weeks of playoff hockey and now we're returning to a toned-down version of competition.  Obviously this isn't the case, and I'll likely think otherwise once the puck drops tonight and definitely one month from now when playoff hockey begins, but for the time being I guess I'm just anxious to see the season start again.

By the way, any thoughts on how the fans will react whenCrosby returns to the ice at Mellon?  Think the team will do anything special for his gold medal?  Oh yeah, and uh, Marc-Andre Fleury too.

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