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If you take the reality approach, the Buffalo Sabres have lost three straight games and scored a combined two goals in them. Tonight’s game in Carolina starts a stretch where 12 of the final 17 are on the road — where the Sabres are just 7-19-3. The outlook isn’t rosy.

Or you can take the glass is half-full approach. And that revolves around winger Drew Stafford.

Stafford is putting pucks in the net with regularity and emerging as a leader in the wake of the trade of captain Steve Ott. He played his 500th career game and scored the only goal in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Nashville. And in the wake of the Ryan Miller trade, Stafford now owns the longest continuous service rank on the team.

“It’s quite an accomplishment and I never really realized it until a few games ago,” Stafford said of No. 500. “… When you kind of look back at your career a little bit, there’s the ups and downs. You guys have seen it all since I’ve been here my whole career, some of the stuff I’ve been through, the good times and bad times.

“I feel pretty good about it, and I thank a lot of the guys I’ve played with, the training staff here, different coaches. I’m a glass half-full type of guy. I feel like I have a lot to go and I’m still ascending.”

Stafford scored for the second consecutive game and now has eight goals and 14 points in his last 15 games. He has 12 goals on the season.

Stafford had just six goals in last year’s lockout campaign — and had just two in his first 34 games this year. So that means he’s had 10 goals in his last 22 games.

Playing on a line with Tyler Ennis and Cory Conacher, Stafford’s 23:00 of ice time was the third-highest total of his career and just shy of his career-high 23:35 set on Dec. 9, 2011. He had several good chances to score Tuesday.

“I had some good ones, beat a couple guys up ice for some opportunities,” Stafford said. “You’d like to have gotten a couple more.”

“Maybe he didn’t start the year the way he wanted to,” said coach Ted Nolan. “But he persevered and he worked through it. To me, that showed good leadership on his side.”

Stafford showed more leadership Wednesday when an agitated Nolan made his players do wind sprints and then left the ice during practice because he was upset with their execution. With the coach gone, Stafford and Christian Ehrhoff gathered their teammates in the corner of the rink for a chat.

“It’s not going to get any easier,” Stafford said. “… It’s a time for us to really come together as a team, spend a lot of time together in close quarters. It’s up to us to drag ourselves out of this. No one is going to do it for us.”

“I don’t really care what position you’re in or what your skill-set is or anything like that. What I care about is the work that you put in and the effort that you put in,” Nolan said. “We didn’t put the effort in at the beginning of practice and habits are easy to form, good or bad.

“We have to avoid those bad habits and get them out early. We’re still professional people here. We’ve still got a season to go, too. Attention to detail, that’s our No. 1 priority.”

There was chatter Stafford had some teams interested at the trade deadline, particularly Minnesota, but he was not moved. He has a cap-friendly $4 million contract that runs out after next season, thus making him a potential good rental at next year’s deadline.

Stafford insisted after Tuesday’s game he wasn’t interested in being part of the Sabres simply playing out the string.

“A lot of guys are playing for jobs and want an opportunity right now,” Stafford said. “We need everyone going. We can’t have any passengers. Forget where we are in the standings. We’re playing for pride.

“We’re playing to not be embarrassed out there. We’re not going to quit or mail it in. Our fans don’t deserve that. We’re building for the future here, and we have to establish the right way to do things.”

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The Sabres were able to leave town despite the weather and their charter landed in Raleigh late in the afternoon. … The Rochester Amerks’ game against Binghamton in Blue Cross Arena was postponed by the weather and will be played Sunday at 5:05.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com