The Buffalo Sabres have ridden their high-powered offense to the best record in the Eastern Conference, but injuries to two of their top scorers motivated the team to bolster its lineup before Tuesday's trade deadline.
Trying to remain in first place in the East, Buffalo added forward Dainius Zubrus, and he's scheduled to make his Sabres debut Friday in a home matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Sabres (42-16-5) are trying to overcome costly injuries to Chris Drury and Maxim Afinogenov. Co-captain Drury, who has 33 goals and 24 assists, suffered a concussion Feb. 22 and will miss at least two more games. Afinogenov, with 23 goals and 34 assists, will be out another four weeks after breaking his left wrist.
Looking to strengthen an offense that has scored a league-leading 240 goals, Buffalo traded rookie forward Jiri Novotny and a first-round pick to Washington for Zubrus and prospect defenseman Timo Helbling on Tuesday.
"You look at Dainius, he's a good playmaker. He's a big man. He's going to relish the opportunity to play in the playoffs," coach Lindy Ruff said of the 6-foot-4, 226-pound Zubrus. "I think this is a heck of an opportunity. I think our players look at it that we made ourselves better."
Zubrus has 20 goals and 52 points - five short of matching his career high set last season - in 60 games, and is pleased to leave a team that was last in the Southeast Division to join a Stanley Cup contender.
"It definitely gives you a little boost," said Zubrus, who has two goals and an assist in three games against the Canadiens this season. "With the last couple of years in Washington, you don't get to experience the playoffs or a real hockey atmosphere. This is a very good change for me. I'm very excited."
After trading for Zubrus on Tuesday afternoon, the Sabres defeated Toronto 6-1 that night to win for the third time in four games. Buffalo is three points ahead of New Jersey for the East lead.
"The trades didn't give us a lift today, but once Dainius gets here we'll be a better team," said Jochen Hecht, who scored twice and had an assist.
Ryan Miller made 27 saves Tuesday, and is 3-1-1 with a 2.68 goals-against average against Montreal this season.
Buffalo (33-27-6) is 3-2-1 against the Canadiens, but has lost the last two matchups. The Sabres have also dropped the last two meetings at home, although they have one of the best home records in the league at 22-7-3.
Buffalo has gone 9-of-29 (31.0 percent) on the power play in its last five games overall, but has been awful with the man advantage against Montreal, failing to score in 29 opportunities.
Montreal lost to the New York Rangers 4-0 on Tuesday after mustering just three shots in the final period. The Canadiens are in the mix for the final playoff spot in the East, but know time is running out.
Montreal is 4-2 in its last six, but has dropped two of three.
"We just didn't show up and do the things we need to do against a team that we could've put a long ways behind us," said defenseman Sheldon Souray, who has a team-high 22 goals. "The season is getting shorter."
Jaroslav Halak, filling in for injured regular Cristobal Huet, stopped 23 shots Tuesday as he started for the fifth time in Montreal's last six games. The 21-year-old rookie, who made his NHL debut Feb. 18, lost his second straight after opening his career with three consecutive wins.
The Canadiens and Sabres wrap up their season series in Montreal on March 31.