There’s union and management — and never the twain shall meet, right?

But ask both sides and they say the same thing about the Sabres’ success. Forget the players, the coach, the style of play, the rules and the CBA. Players and the team’s brass both point to one pivotal factor in the franchise’s returning to Cup contender status — B. Thomas Golisano.

Golisano has been a fixture at Sabres home games, providing a high-profile face much like John Rigas did during the team’s Cup run in ‘99.

But there is a difference — Golisano’s books aren’t cooked.

“Tom is first and foremost a businessman and a very successful and tough businessman,” GM Darcy Regier said. “He came in and set the tone for this club and the tone was something like this: ‘We’re not going to do the things we did in the past that got us into trouble.’ Things like spending more than we could afford, living in a house we couldn’t afford and also taking the position that we’re going to pay market value for players.”

Regier added that players weren’t the only ones who realized that for the team to be special, the organization as a whole would have to excel. It’s a philosophy that’s born through financial disparity, but it works nonetheless.

“The concept of distinguishing ourselves from other teams was what (Golisano) brought. Don’t be like other teams,” Regier said. “If you’re going to follow the masses you will be like the masses, and so you have to distinguish yourself. The biggest word of distinguishing yourself is probably innovation — we’re going to have to invent different ways to do things.”

Players like Brian Campbell, who went through the bankruptcy, have said this year’s playoff run is even more special, considering the status of the franchise just a few years ago.

“I remember thinking, ‘Are we going to have a team here? Are we going to have to move?’ And not knowing if everyone was going to get a paycheck,” Campbell said. “It took a big toll on everyone. Where are you going to live? What’s next? I think we’re all happy that we’re still here.

“Now it’s different. We’ve got an owner who made a big difference and everyone just can’t wait for the playoffs. It’s really exciting to be around.”

POWER PAIRINGS: They already get plenty of ice time, but look for the defensive pairing of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman to get even more shifts in the postseason.

It’s not a coincidence that the two blueliners lead the team in plus-minus — Tallinder was plus-11 before Saturday and Lydman was plus-10 — and also seem to be on the ice when the Sabres need to kill the final minute of a game.

“They are our key pair that we like to play against top lines,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “You’ve got a guy like Tallinder who’s got tremendous reach and tremendous mobility and is very difficult to beat one-on-one — you can play him against speed guys, you can play him against the big guys. Toni’s the same way, he’s very sound in the defensive end. They’re very mobile defensemen.”

The best news for Sabres fans is that Dmitri Kalinin seems to be regaining form, even if it’s not to a point where Ruff uses him as often as Tallinder or Lydman. In Wednesday’s game, for example, Kalinin played less than 14 minutes while Tallinder led the team with over 25 minutes.

“He is gaining confidence and playing well,” Ruff said of Kalinin. “Dmitri makes plays that are very high risk, but they’re very high reward. His play down low was as physical as we need it to be.”

Je m’appelle Marty: Breakdown Marty Biron’s two-point-something million dollar salary by word and the Sabres are getting ripped off.

But his motor mouth really gets revved up when Les Habitants are in town.

With Montreal’s media throng surrounding his locker after Wednesday’s morning skate, Biron took his sweet time untaping.

I jokingly asked for a translator, but media relations couldn’t find one. No matter. My shorthand wouldn’t have been good enough to keep up with his chatter.

“It’s the only time Marty’s allowed to speak French in the locker room,” tough guy Andrew Peters joked while shaking his head. “He’s soaking it up while he can.”

SPEAKING OF TOUGH GUYS: Move over Rob Ray, Mike Hartman and Larry Playfair, in a year of surprising stats the one that might end up looking oddest in the record books could be the team leader in penalty minutes.

Heading into Saturday night’s game, Peters led the team with 84 penalty minutes in 27 games.

Who’s a close second? None other than Maxim Afinogenov. After his feisty tangle with Montreal’s Craig Rivet on Wednesday, the newest Russian Rocket had moved within two PIMs of Peters, who has about four inches and 40 pounds on Afinogenov.

And while Ruff can’t be happy that Afinogenov’s found the box so often, he’s probably thrilled with the chip the winger has kept on his shoulders.

If Afinogenov does pass Peters — and that’s a big if considering that Peters will likely be in the lineup tonight as Darcy Tucker and the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town — and finishes leading the team in points, it would mark the first time in club history that a player has led both categories at season’s end. For the record, the team’s leading goal scorer has led in PIMs twice — Danny Gare did it in 1975-76 (50 goals, 129 PIMs) and Mike Foligno turned the trick in 1985-86 (41 goals, 168 PIMs).

DEVILISH TURNAROUND: If the New Jersey Devils played this way earlier in the season, Larry Robinson might never have stepped down as coach.

When Robinson resigned on Dec. 19, citing stress and health concerns, there were no signs that the Devils would be streaking to the finish. Robinson’s last game was a 4-1 loss at Carolina that stretched New Jersey’s skid to 2-4-3 and 14-13-5 overall.

But now, the Devils are one of the hottest teams in the league, and could give the Sabres fits in the first round of the playoffs. New Jersey would be an extremely dangerous first round opponent.

“I think the team’s gone through a lot,” said forward Scott Gomez, the most recent NHL player of the week. “We knew the potential of this club and we stuck with it.”

Ice level view: In the never-ending battle to turn non-hockey viewers onto the game, NBC is pulling out another stop — bringing TV viewers down to ice level with the players.

The network already rolled out the Goalie-cam, a lipstick-size camera inside the mask that allows viewers to witness high-speed shots and scrums from a goalie’s viewpoint.

On Saturday, NBC unveiled see-through end boards on coverage of the Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars.

The goal: take viewers inside the corners, where the fiercest hitting occurs, NBC hockey producer Sam Flood says. If the experiment is a success, NBC will employ the Plexiglas boards during coverage of the playoffs. “It’s about the speed and power of the game. This takes you down below the glass,” Flood says.

NBC is averaging a 1.0 rating through five telecasts this season, below ABC’s average of 1.1 during the same period in the 2003-04 season. But NBC President Ken Schanzer says he’s pleased with the number as the NHL bounces back from the player lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.

Group sports editor Tim Schmitt covers the Buffalo Sabres for Greater Niagara Newspapers. Wire services contributed to this article.

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