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Just survive, Baby.

Maxim Afinogenov
Paul Gaustad

Jaroslav Spacek

Jiri Novotny.
Now Ales Kotalik.
And don’t forget Tim Connolly (though, given how long it’s been since the highly skilled playmaker skated during an actual game, you’d be forgiven for doing so).
The Buffalo Sabres’ injury list, scarcely worth considering for most of the 2006-07 season, reached the point of absurdity when Kotalik haltingly left the ice during Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Boston.
Afinogenov is out for at least six weeks with a broken left wrist.
A severed tendon in Gaustad’s ankle will keep him out for the rest of the regular season. A medical near-miracle brings him back at some point in the playoffs.
Spacek is gone for a month with a broken left hand.
Kotalik’s knee injury could cost him a month or so, as well.
Novotny’s prognosis is the least grim, pegging his availability at the nebulous day-to-day, but he’s sidelined after aggravating a high-ankle sprain, an injury that will just keep recurring unless allowed time to heal.
And Connolly, well, who knows? The lingering post-concussion symptoms that kept him dormant since last year’s playoffs had finally lifted before a stress fracture in his leg stalled his rehabilitation for at least a week.
Only Afinogenov, second on the team with 57 points, ranks among Buffalo’s top six scorers. But Kotalik (seventh with 36 points), Gaustad (22) and Spacek (20) are among the dozen with at least 20 points and their absence eliminates much of the offensive depth that has become the team’s trademark. And Spacek, as erratic as he’s been at times, is second in scoring among defensemen behind Brian Campbell.
The good news is that, with the possible exceptions of Gaustad and Connolly, the rest should be back for the playoffs.
Barring a half-dozen more debilitated regulars, Buffalo remains in great position for the postseason with 23 games remaining, at least in terms of the standings. With 83 points, the Sabres are five up on second-place New Jersey in the Eastern Conference and 12 ahead of Ottawa, their closest pursuer in the Northeast Division. Atlanta and Tampa Bay are tied for the Southeast Division lead and the nominal third seed with 69 points.
So Buffalo figures to enter the Stanley Cup tournament as no worse than the No. 2 seed. How closely the Sabres resemble the unit that earned such a lofty ranking, well, we’ll see.
Even if every best-case scenario plays out, can they enter the playoffs at the same level they’ve functioned for the last five months?
While conventional wisdom seems to hold that the injury spree puts additional pressure on Darcy Regier to flurry before the trade deadline, the general manager simply doesn’t have the personnel currency, or the cap room, to fill every new hole with a transaction.
The uncertainty over when of if the injured will return make dealing a forward just about impossible, leaving Martin Biron as Regier’s primary bait. But is anybody going to give up a first- or second-line forward, or a top-four defenseman for Biron? If not, is Regier better off plugging the gaps in the lineup via the Rochester shuttle?
After all, Buffalo’s system has been built since before the lockout to absorb the loss of players the franchise can no longer afford, drafting players who fit the post-lockout style that got the Sabres to the Eastern Conference finals last spring and to the overall points lead so far in 2006-07.
Tonight’s visit by Philadelphia seems like a bit of fortunate scheduling, what with the Flyers trailing the rest of the league by 10 points. But they’ve gone 4-3-3 over their last 10 games. And where Lindy Ruff not so long ago could famously roll out four solid lines, the recent carnage leaves him scrambling to put together three solid ones.
With a lineup loaded with recent Amerks, expect plenty of the sloppiness – and drama — that marked Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Boston.
For right now, wins and losses barely matter. The way the last couple of weeks have gone, everybody who takes the ice for Buffalo leaving HSBC Arena tonight without a cast or crutches will be victory enough.

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