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CAMPBELL'S RECALL PROPHETIC

Just hours before Friday night's game, the Buffalo Sabres called up defenseman Brian Campbell from Rochester, just in case.

They weren't really planning to use Campbell. Even with Richard Smehlik nursing a groin injury that will force him to miss his third straight game tonight against the Devils in New Jersey, the Sabres still had six regular NHL defensemen ready to go. The coaching staff just wanted Campbell in New Jersey tonight as insurance, a safeguard against the possibility that one of the regular defensemen would get hurt in the morning or pregame skate.

Now, Buffalo management has to be feeling relieved -- if a bit sickened -- at the prescience demonstrated by Campbell's promotion. The Sabres lost defensemen Rhett Warrener and Dmitri Kalinin during Buffalo's Friday Night Fight with the Montreal Canadiens, although neither player was hurt during one of the game's many skirmishes.

Warrener injured his groin after losing his footing while skating backward. The 25-year-old's right leg started to drag as Warrener fell, and he had to be helped off the ice. He did not make the trip to New Jersey with the team and will not play tonight.

No one seemed to notice Kalinin leave for the dressing room during the second period with an injured hand that probably will keep him out of tonight's game -- perhaps because the halls were so filled with other players getting hurt or ushered out in flashier ways. The second period included 10 penalties for a total of 36 minutes, including 10-minute misconducts to Buffalo's Maxim Afinogenov and Montreal's Yanic Perreault.

In the first 40 minutes of play, both teams saw their benches severely depleted. In addition to Buffalo's injuries, Sabres winger Vaclav Varada and Montreal center Doug Gilmour were ejected in the first period, following a play in which Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore appeared to have been knocked unconscious in a collision with Varada.

The pressing issue for the Sabres, though, quickly became how to replace Warrener and Kalinin (probably out) in time for tonight's meeting with the Devils. Buffalo will need Campbell plus one more game-ready defenseman.

The Sabres are considering recalling one of three defensemen from Rochester: Rory Fitzpatrick, Mike Hurlbut or Doug Houda. To make room for a new defenseman, someone will have to be sent to the minors or placed on injured reserve. Fitzpatrick is more of an offensive-minded defenseman, while Houda and Hurlbut, like Warrener, are more focused on the defensive zone.

Buffalo saw improvement on its power play, converting 1 of 5 opportunities against Montreal.

"The league average is 1 for 6 on the power play, and we should be able to do that," Ruff said. "That's just putting the onus on the key players just to get more pucks to the net. It's as simple as we're going to take a guy like Varada, (Denis) Hamel, (J.P.) Dumont and put him in front of the net, create more traffic. Not guys standing there trying to tip it, but guys standing there trying to screen goaltenders where rebounds will come out and more shots will get through somehow. There isn't anything simpler than that."

Ruff also noted that the point men needed to shoot more, a message that wasn't lost on defenseman Jason Woolley, who scored his team's power-play goal Friday.

"I talked to Lindy just before practice started, and we talked about getting some guys in front of the net. We talked about some of the good power plays in the league, no matter how talented they are they still always have someone in front of the net. So that's what we've got to do," Woolley said.

Campbell and Eric Boulton were healthy scratches Friday. The Canadiens scratched tough guys Gino Odjick and Reid Simpson, along with injured winger Oleg Petrov and injured goalie Jeff Hackett.
e-mail: mgeschwind@buffnews.com

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