The Buffalo Sabres are battling for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference despite injuries to three of their top forwards.
Those players will be back this season. Brian Campbell won't be.
The Sabres will move ahead without their All-Star defenseman - who was dealt prior to the trade deadline - when they continue a five-game homestand Wednesday against the Nashville Predators, who are beginning a season-high six-game road trip.
|Steve Bernier (left) will make his Sabres debut tonight. (AP Photo)
Buffalo (30-24-9) had tried to sign Campbell, who's due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, to a contract extension. Campbell, who had five goals and 38 assists this season, rejected a three-year offer worth more than $17 million.
As a result, general manager Darcy Regier made the decision to get what he could for Campbell on Tuesday. The Sabres sent Campbell to San Jose for 22-year-old right wing Steve Bernier and a first-round draft pick - acquisitions geared toward the Sabres' future.
Regier, though, made the trade with his club tied for the final playoff spot in the East.
"In Brian's case, let's be honest, we'd all have preferred to have him here and keep him here," Regier said. "But this is part of the new (collective-bargaining agreement) that we're going to have to deal with."
Bernier had 13 goals and 10 assists with the Sharks, and should give the Sabres some depth at forward as they've dealt with a rash of injuries up front. Maxim Afinogenov has been out since early January with a groin injury, Drew Stafford has missed the last nine games with a sprained ankle and Jochen Hecht has missed the past two games with a groin problem.
Bernier is expected to make his Sabres debut against the Predators. Hecht may return against Nashville, while Afinogenov should also return this week.
Thomas Vanek has done everything he can to carry the Sabres offensively with the team so banged up, recording 11 goals and four assists in his last 10 games.
Buffalo's problem lately has been defense. The Sabres have given up at least four goals in four of their last six games, going 2-3-1.
|J.P. Dumont (left) and Jason Arnott (right) have been carrying the Predators offensively in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Ryan Miller has been in goal for each game, posting a 3.41 goals-against average in that span. He gave up three goals in regulation Tuesday as the Sabres blew a 3-0 first-period lead and lost 4-3 in a shootout to Philadelphia.
"It's annoying," Miller said. "It's a team we need to beat and a team we should have beat."
The Predators (32-24-8), like Buffalo, are tied for the last playoff spot in their conference.
Since the end of 2007, Nashville has been one of the NHL's best teams, going 15-6-6 since Dec. 31 to move into playoff contention. They're in second place in the Central Division behind Detroit.
The Predators have won only once in their last four games, however, losing 6-3 to Dallas on Saturday.
"They capitalized on some fortunate bounces," said Nashville's Dan Ellis, who allowed four goals and was pulled after two periods. "The pucks were just bouncing in different directions, and some of them found the net."
Ellis has given up four goals in each of his last two starts after going 7-1-2 with a 1.94 GAA in the 10 games prior.
The Preds have allowed 33 goals in the last nine games.
Linemates Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont have carried the Predators offensively as the team has struggled with its defense. Arnott has four goals and seven assists in his past eight games, while Dumont has the same totals over his last six.
Nashville hasn't visited Buffalo since beating the Sabres 5-1 on Jan. 27, 2003.