MONTREAL - Saku Koivu clanked his way out of the Bell Centre on crutches on Monday with his left foot in a cast.
The Montreal Canadiens captain had learned he has a small bone fractured in his foot and will be out at least for the team's final three NHL regular season games.
Defenceman Francis Bouillon was off seeing a doctor about a sore foot as well, but all that was known was that he would miss a game Tuesday night against the Senators in Ottawa.
With shut-down defenceman Mike Komisarek nursing a hip injury since last week, it appears the injury bug saved its worst for the end on a Canadiens team that was mostly injury-free this season.
"That's sport - injuries are part of the game we play," coach Guy Carbonneau said. "There isn't a time of the season that's better than any other.
"Near the end like this isn't fun, but it gives a chance to some young players and guys who don't play as much to get more ice time and show what they can do."
The Canadiens need only one point to clinch first place in the Northeast Division and a top-two placing in the NHL Eastern Conference, but it will be tougher now without Koivu, their captain and a skilled playmaker who is also their top face-off taker.
Carbonneau said they would wait until the regular season ends on Saturday night for Koivu to take tests to see if he can be patched up for the playoffs.
"He's someone with a lot of experience, he's a leader, he's our captain and he's played in big games internationally," said Carbonneau. "We'll definitely miss him the rest of the regular season. Hopefully, he'll be able to play once the playoffs come.
"Once the season's over, we'll see what he can do, if he can put his foot in the boot without pain. Patrice Brisebois played with two broken bones (in January). It's not like you can't do it. It depends on his threshold and how he's going to feel in his boot."
Koivu was injured when he was struck on the foot by a shot during a 4-3 win in Buffalo on Friday night, although he was able to finish the game and assisted on the overtime winner by Christopher Higgins.
Bouillon got hit by an Ian White shot during a 4-2 loss Saturday night in Toronto.
But Defenceman Mark Streit, who also was hit on the foot in Buffalo and missed the game in Toronto, skated Monday with his ankle taped and expects to play in Ottawa.
And left winger Guillaume Latendresse, who has missed four games with neck spasms, is also due to return.
Rookie Mikhail Grabovski stepped into Koivu's spot on the second line in Toronto, but was overmatched going head-to-head with Leafs captain Mats Sundin.
For the Ottawa game, another rookie, Sergei Kostitsyn will play between Higgins and Michael Ryder while Grabovski drops to the third line with second-year men Latendresse and Maxim Lapierre.
The Canadiens depth will be tested, although all their young players, including defencemen Ryan O'Byrne and Josh Gorges, have seen plenty of ice time during the season. So has rookie goalie Carey Price, who will start against the Senators.
"The experience those young guys gained over the season is definitely going to help," added Carbonneau. "It's hard to replace a guy like Saku.
"But with the fact that we were able to give more responsibility to some young guys this year and they responded really well, I guess we're ahead of the curve."
The Canadiens are coming off two games in which they looked flat, although they were able to beat the Sabres with two improbable goals in the final 2:31 and another in overtime.
The letdown in effort after clinching a playoff spot in their previous game was evident, said Streit, the trigger man on the power play.
"You're 75 games into the season and all the talk was about the playoffs for five or six months," he said. "You work so hard and then you finally clinch a spot and it feels great and you're kind of let down a bit.
"We were lucky we won one of those two games, but I think everyone realizes we have to get back and play our game and go into the playoffs with a lot of confidence. I don't think anyone was happy with the last two games."
After the game in Ottawa, the Canadiens end the season with homes against Buffalo on Thursday and Toronto on Saturday.
"We don't want to wait for the last game on Saturday and be in a position where we have to get that point," said Carbonneau. "We're still thinking of first place in the conference.
"It's not out of reach. By losing in Toronto, we lost the advantage we had (over Pittsburgh), but it's still there. The next game is always the most important that's what we're concentrating on."
Carbonneau ended his daily new news conference with an unusual appeal to reporters not to call players on their cellphones or in hotel rooms to ask about injuries, as apparently happened over the weekend.
"I don't know he you dealt with other coaches but I don't like it," he said. "I don't like it when players come to me and say 'this guy called and I don't know what to do.' "
The Canadiens had been calling Komisarek's hip a "lower body injury," but a directive from the NHL asked teams to release more specific information about injuries. Carbonneau wasn't crazy about that, either, but the team went along with it.
"We're not trying to hide anything," he said. "But we're trying to protect our assets, the players.
"When there is an injury, we'll give you what we can give you."