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Brian Gionta sees Sabres in playoffs

NEW YORK -- A legion of hockey folks are predicting another train wreck of a season for the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta knows that.

He could care less.

Further, he thinks his new squad is going to surprise a lot of folks this season.

“My expectation is to make the playoffs. I didn’t go there to sit around and watch the playoffs on TV,” Gionta told ESPN.com on Monday. "The expectation is to make the playoffs and continue to grow and build. I think that’s the first step. I think it’s a realistic step to try to get in there in the playoffs."

But, that’ll hurt the Sabres chances of winning the Connor McDavid lottery at next June’s draft, wouldn’t it?

“That’s alright,” Gionta said with a grin.

While it might have seemed from the outside an odd choice for the veteran winger to sign on with a Sabres team that finished dead last in the NHL last season with just 52 points, a whopping 41 points in arrears of the eighth-place Detroit Red Wings, there is something kind of symmetrical about Gionta’s decision to ink a three-year deal with Buffalo.

“For myself, it’s a childhood team I grew up watching and following them and the prospect of being a part of something pretty special, a turnaround and being a piece of that was very intriguing to me,” Gionta said.

The 35-year-old native of Rochester, New York, is also embracing the idea of moving close to home.

“It’s been weird. It’s been a long time since I’ve been there, college, pro; I’ve been away from home for a long time, so it still feels weird," Gionta said. "We moved into our house and we’re about an hour from our summer residence. We’ve already gone back and forth a couple of times. Family’s come up, grandparents come up to see the kids. It’s pretty special that everyone can be a part of it. At the age [I'm at], towards the end of my career, it’s nice for all those people to really enjoy it and kind of see it through and see the process of it.”

He’s been in the Buffalo area only a short time, but he’s started to work out with his new teammates, including top-end prospects like Nikita Zadorov and Sam Reinhart. Coming from a Montreal team that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, Gionta will be tasked with preventing a losing mentality in the locker room.

“The biggest thing is how you prepare day in and day out, whether it’s practice or a game. Going to the rink, being energetic to be there no matter what’s going on,” Gionta said.

“Every team does it, they go through highs and lows throughout the year. So you’ve got to manage those highs and lows. Part of that is how you prepare, always preparing the same way. Always prepping the same way. Hard work all the time. Whether it’s studying film or being ready for your opponent. Those things come into play. Not accepting losing. There’s no other way to say it -- it’s not being happy with losing games. I think that’s how you create that culture of winning is not accepting that.”