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Injuries? No problem. First-place Sabres keep rolling despite missing one third of lineup

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Injuries? No problem. First-place Sabres keep rolling despite missing one third of lineup

The Canadian Press
By:

Missing one third of their lineup through injury, the Eastern Conference's first-place team keeps rolling along, going 9-1-1 in their last 11 games.

How many teams in the NHL could thrive, never mind survive, without the likes of forwards Chris Drury, Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik, Daniel Paille, Paul Gaustad and Tim Connolly as well as defenceman Jaroslav Spacek?

For the Sabres, the reaction was a collective shrug of the shoulders. No problem. Enter forwards Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur, Michael Ryan, Patrick Kaleta and Mark Mancari from AHL Rochester. The callups not only filled the void, but have played so well the Sabres haven't lost a step.

"It's amazing," said co-captain Daniel Briere. "You have to give credit to the coaching staff in Rochester, it's two years in a row now that guys are coming up and helping, And not just helping, but playing major roles for our team down the stretch."

Briere points to all-star goalie Ryan Miller as the No. 1 reason for the current roll, but like everybody else is equally impressed by his organization's depth.

In a salary-cap world, these are the teams that succeed the most. The Sabres may be in the process of becoming hockey's version of the New England Patriots, football's model franchise, a team able to lose key parts and replace them with others without missing a beat.

"It's exciting to know that we have that depth," said Miller, the first star in Saturday's win at Air Canada Centre. "It's good to see that these guys come up hungry and ready to compete. I think they all feel they're key contributors out there and (coach) Lindy (Ruff) is getting them a lot of ice time. They're feeling good about themselves."

Ruff also credited Miller and a relatively healthy blue-line for the current run, and says the injuries up front come at a position where the franchise happens to be deep.

"We have forwards down in Rochester that we brought up that are very good players, that have stepped up and proved they can be quality NHL players," said Ruff. "That's where the depth in our organization lies and they've done a very good job for us."

Stafford, who scored he winning goal in Saturday night's 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, isn't surprised he and his fellow callups have done the job.

"That's just how this organization is run, the way the minors are done in Rochester, the coaching staff there, the systems are pretty much the same," he said. "All the guys that are up right now, we all have the same kind of attitude, we're willing to learn and work."

Stafford, in particular, has shone brightest, putting up nine points (4-5) in the seven games since his callup Feb. 16.

"He's definitely made a case for staying in the NHL," said Ruff. "He's played very sound, he's been very reliable, he's scored some timely goals. He's been a very good player for us."

Buffalo's first-round choice, 13th overall, in the 2004 NHL entry draft, the 21-year-old Milwaukee native is trying to make sure he's up for good.

"I've got an opportunity and I'm going to take advantage of it," said Stafford. "I'm not going to let it slip by, because I know there's a lot of other guys that are wanting to so the same thing that I'm doing. Now that I'm here I'm going to do the best I can to stay up."

Briere has been impressed with Stafford's play since his second callup.

"He's certainly making a good case (to stay)," said Briere. "You can tell that he's definitely ready for this level. He's patient, he's got lots of confidence and he's strong. He also plays solid in his own zone, too. He's not a liability out there."

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Injuries? No problem. First-place Sabres keep rolling despite missing one third of lineup