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Leopold returns to Sabres' lineup

by Shawn P. Roarke
BUFFALO – Buffalo defenseman Jordan Leopold rushed back from a broken hand to try to help out his team in any way possible.

Things did not work out quite as Leopold planned, however, as Buffalo dropped a 4-2 decision to the Flyers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at HSBC Arena. Buffalo now trails the best-of-7 series, 2-1 with Game 4 here on Wednesday.

Leopold was a surprise addition to the Game 3 lineup. So much of a surprise that Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said he had no idea his top offensive defenseman during the season (13 goals) would be a go in Game 3 until just before the morning skate.

And, Leopold, who wasn't expected back for another week, was a welcome addition as defensemen Shaone Morrisonn and Andrej Sekera were not available because of injury.

"I've been pushing myself the last little bit to be ready if something happened and the team needed me," Leopold said. "I've been working toward that, toward being able to get out there and to contribute some way somehow."

In his first game back, Leopold played 14 minutes and 48 seconds and even did some penalty killing. He even took two shots despite questions about how his hand would handle the stress of game action, and delivered two hits.

"If I couldn't shoot, obviously I wouldn't have been out there," he said.

While it was a gutsy effort to come back sooner than expected and play in such a big game, the rust clearly showed in Leopold's game and it proved costly on the game-winning goal by Philadelphia's Nikolay Zherdev late in the second period.

The crafty Zherdev was Leopold's responsibility, but Leopold lost track of the Russian forward and left him unattended on the right doorstep of Ryan Miller, a perfect position from which to redirect a crisp cross-slot pass from Mike Richards.

"Myself, it's been a few weeks since I have been out there and I made a couple of mental mistakes on the third goal," Leopold said. "I can take responsibility for that, it is a part of hockey. But, we go forward from this, we bury this one tonight and we have to come out swarming in a couple of days."

It might be easier to bury this one because Leopold believes he will be even better for Wednesday's game. His coach also has a belief that Leopold can give more.

"I thought for his situation, (Leopold) did well," Ruff said.

But well isn't going to be good enough for Leopold or any of his Buffalo teammates in a pivotal Game 4. They will have to be great if they hope to even the series at 2-2 heading back to Philadelphia. Hitting the road facing a two-game hole – and elimination – is a prospect nobody in the Buffalo organization wants to contemplate.

"I mean, you don't like to look at it as a must-win, but, of course we have been playing must-win games since the new year started just to get in playoffs, so I think this is familiar territory for us," Leopold said.

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