Making the playoffs is going to be difficult for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Getting there without captain Mats Sundin figures to be next to impossible.
The Maple Leafs won't have their best player available Saturday night when they host one of the teams they are chasing in the Eastern Conference - the Buffalo Sabres.
Thought to be out of the playoff race just three weeks ago, the Maple Leafs (32-30-10) have been one of the league's hottest teams lately, going 9-3-1 in their last 13 games. That surge has pulled them within five points of Philadelphia for the eighth and final postseason spot and three points behind ninth-place Buffalo (33-28-11).
No player has been a bigger part of that success than Sundin, who had eight goals and eight assists during a nine-game point streak that ended in Wednesday's 3-2 victory over the Flyers.
Sundin, though, left in the first period with a strained groin and will miss Saturday's key contest. He's the team leader with 32 goals, 45 assists and 77 points.
Without Sundin, Toronto coach Paul Maurice will move either Alex Steen or Nik Antropov into the top center spot. Forward Mark Bell will return to the Leafs' lineup and wear a mask to protect an orbital bone injury.
"That's why it's called a team," Antropov said. "We can back up each other."
Defenseman Pavel Kubina scored his second straight game-winning goal Wednesday, beating Martin Biron 1:09 into the third period to snap a 2-2 tie.
Ian White and Alexei Ponikarovsky also had goals for the Leafs, who are 3-2-0 this season against the Sabres.
Vesa Toskala is expected to make his 24th straight start in net for Toronto. He has allowed three goals or fewer in nine of his last 10 games.
The Sabres ended a four-game losing streak Friday with a 7-1 victory over Carolina, just their second win in eight games (2-4-2). Derek Roy had two goals and an assist for Buffalo, which is two points behind the Flyers with 10 games left.
The Sabres rebounded from Wednesday's 7-3 loss at Pittsburgh and overcame the absences of regular defensemen Jaroslav Spacek (bruised ribs), Dmitri Kalinin (shoulder) and Nathan Paetsch (concussion). None are expected to play Saturday.
Ryan Miller had an easy night in net, stopping 27 of 28 shots after he allowed six goals on 32 shots in the loss to the Penguins.
"We need to be consistent," Miller said. "Tonight, it's get a quick meal, get on a bus and that's about as long as you can think about it."
Miller is 2-2-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and one shutout in four starts this season against the Leafs.
Buffalo is 14-6-1 versus Toronto since the start of the 2005-06 season.