BUFFALO, N.Y. - Injuries played a contributing role in the Buffalo Sabres' midseason swoon. And the Sabres are going to have to deal with them again if they intend to complete a late-season playoff push.
Defenceman Christian Ehrhoff is out indefinitely after hurting his left knee. Coach Lindy Ruff wouldn't put a timetable on his recovery Wednesday, except to say Ehrhoff will "miss some time."
Ehrhoff was hurt a day earlier in the first period of a 5-1 win over Washington. That's when he was in front of his own net and knocked knees with Capitals forward Troy Brouwer, who was driving into the crease.
The injury is a considerable blow to a team in the midst a late-season playoff surge. The Sabres (38-29-10) have won five straight and are 7-0-2 in their past nine in a run that's jumped them two points ahead of Washington and into sole possession of the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.
With five games left, Buffalo is off until hosting Pittsburgh on Friday.
Ehrhoff was one of the Sabres' key off-season acquisitions, and has developed into one of their steadiest defencemen. He leads the team in averaging 23:03 of ice time, and Buffalo defencemen with 32 points (five goals, 27 assists).
Mike Weber will fill Ehrhoff's spot, returning to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the past four games.
Ehrhoff's importance was evident earlier this season when he missed 11 games with a rib injury. The Sabres went 2-7-2 without him. Buffalo has gone 19-5-5 since, with Ehrhoff's return coming at a time when the Sabres also welcomed back defenceman Robyn Regehr and centre Tyler Ennis from injury.
"I think dealing with one injury is maybe better than what we had to deal with in the past," said Ruff, who at one point was missing as many as nine regulars. "We have to deal with it. We have to face a little adversity, and we need players to step up."
The Sabres stepped up against the Capitals, particularly in the second period when they were missing both Ehrhoff and defenceman Andrej Sekera, who limped off after being struck by a shot.
Down to three blue-liners after Robyn Regehr was penalized for hooking, Buffalo responded with captain Jason Pominville scoring a short-handed goal to make it 4-1.
Sekera was given the day off from practice Wednesday, but is expected to play against Pittsburgh. Center Derek Roy missed practice due to the flu.
Defenceman Tyler Myers is impressed by how the Sabres have surged into playoff contention, while noting the job's not done yet.
"I think last game was a big statement game for us," Myers said. "But in saying that, we don't want to focus on it too much. We want to look ahead and make sure we win our next five here."
Notes: After Drew Stafford scored twice against the Capitals, he and his linemates, Ennis and rookie Marcus Foligno, have combined for 17 goals and 38 points in their past nine games. ... G Ryan Miller stopped 44 shots and improved to 14-1-3 in his past 18 games, in which he's allowed 32 goals. ... LW Jochen Hecht, who's 29 games with a concussion, says he's been symptom-free for about two weeks, but still hasn't been cleared for contact.