The visiting Buffalo Sabres and Maple Leafs will be without their respective leading scorers tonight, but that's where the similarities end.
The Knives are 12 points ahead of Toronto and old hats at dealing well with adversity. The latest is the loss of top gun Tim Connolly, out six to eight weeks because of a knee injury after what coach Lindy Ruff called a "cheap hit" by notorious New York Rangers defenceman Darius Kasparaitis on Tuesday night.
"I thought it was cheap, I thought he went low at the knees," Ruff told reporters yesterday. "It may not be the dirtiest hit, but he didn't have to go low. He's known for that. He's a cheap-shot artist."
The Sabres hung on for a 2-1 win which tied them for fourth in the Eastern Conference with New York. Connolly suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee on the non-penalized Kasparaitis hit.
The Sabres, who already have plundered their Rochester farm team of forwards to keep their impressive season rolling, will not make a callup tonight. It's expected that either Taylor Pyatt will come off of the injured list to replace Connolly or tough guy Andrew Peters will suit up.
The Sabres, 15 games over .500 and pursuing their first playoff berth in four seasons, have weathered the losses of Daniel Briere, J.P. Dumont, Pyatt and defenceman Dmitri Kalinin -- and remained one of the best defensive teams in the National Hockey League.
Connolly was trying to get through this season injury-free after missing all of 2003-04 because of post-concussion syndrome. Seven rookies have played for the Sabres this season, including Jason Pominville, who has 16 points in 26 games.
"You don't replace a Connolly," Pominville said yesterday. "But the young guys on this team have stepped up all year. It's helped that the coaching staff in Buffalo spent a lot of time watching us in Rochester during the lockout."
The Leafs also are missing their leading point man, Bryan McCabe, as well as Darcy Tucker, Eric Lindros and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo.