BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP)—The Buffalo Sabres have refused to use injuries as an excuse this season and they’re not about to start now—even after losing yet another defenseman.
Henrik Tallinder is the latest blue-liner to go down, out for the remainder of the playoffs with a broken left arm he suffered late in Buffalo’s 4-3 win over Carolina in the Eastern Conference final Wednesday. The Sabres lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Friday.
“Bad bounces, bad breaks, it’s just something we’ve got to deal with and keep going,” defenseman Brian Campbell said after practice Thursday. “We’ve got too much courage, too many guys that want to win hockey games, that we’re just not going to roll over and quit.”
The Sabres haven’t shown any quit so far in making an eye-opening run in their first playoff appearance since 2001.
They outscored and out-hit Philadelphia in the first round and out-skated top-seeded Ottawa in the second. The Sabres are now showing their resilience.
Tallinder’s injury is the latest in a long string that has left the Sabres defensive corps depleted. Besides Tallinder, their best defenseman this postseason, the Sabres are also without Teppo Numminen (groin), who’s day to day, and Dmitri Kalinin, who’s out indefinitely with an ankle injury.
“I think it kind of sums up our year,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “When we’ve been slapped with adversity, we have rose to the occasion.”
Trouble is, the adversity has never been this bad for a team that won 52 regular-season games but never had four regulars—including center Tim Connolly (possible concussion)—out at the same time.
“I don’t expect anything different from them,” Hurricanes forward Mark Recchi said.
“It really doesn’t matter what they’re doing,” added Carolina defenseman Bret Hedican. “We have to focus on what we do best, and we haven’t done that consistently enough.”
If the Sabres won’t blame injuries, the Hurricanes blame only themselves for being down in a series in which no team has won two straight and all three games have been decided by a goal.
After beating Buffalo 4-3 in Game 2 on Monday, the Hurricanes had a big setback Wednesday.
Carolina lacked discipline, allowing Buffalo to capitalize on two of seven power-play chances, while Ales Kotalik’s eventual winner came on a delayed penalty. The Hurricanes were out-hit 24-11, outshot 33-27 and found themselves running around in their own zone.
“They seemed to have a step on us,” Hedican said. “Our team speed was not evident last night and that’s something we’ve got to get back tomorrow.”
Things got so bad that rookie goaltender Cam Ward was pulled after allowing four goals on 26 shots through 33 minutes. The move was not indicative of Ward’s play, but coach Peter Laviolette’s attempt to spark his team.
The Hurricanes responded, scoring twice while backup Martin Gerber stopped all seven shots he faced, raising questions of who will start in Game 4.
Laviolette isn’t saying, but Ward would like to get a chance to bounce back.
“We learned from the experience, we know what we’re capable of doing,” Ward said. “But it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it. It’s one thing to talk in the dressing room, it’s another to execute on the ice.”
The test for the Sabres is to continue finding newcomers to play effectively.
Defenseman Jeff Jillson, filling in for Numminen, did so in making his debut this postseason. Although Jillson was on the ice for one Carolina goal, he did deliver the hit of the game, leveling Matt Cullen with a big open-ice shot in the second period.
Jillson played only two games for Buffalo this season.
“I’m not going to lie, it was definitely a tough year,” Jillson said. “So it’s a great feeling, but it’s just one game. … I’m just happy to be involved right now.”