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Lalime illness puts Enroth on deck

Some pained laughter, a shake of the head and even some gallows humor with a twist of Hank Bullough's infamous "sails out of our wind" crack thrown in.

That was how Lindy Ruff dealt with the latest bizarre roster turn to crimp the Buffalo Sabres' playoff run.

The Sabres hit the HSBC Arena ice for practice Wednesday morning trying to push forward from Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Anaheim and point toward tonight's key showdown at Carolina.

But it was quickly evident there was a major issue with the workout because newly christened No. 1 goaltender Patrick Lalime was missing.

Instead, rookie Jhonas Enroth was manning one net and 54-year-old goaltender coach Jim Corsi was in full regalia in front of the other.

Anointed as Buffalo's starting goaltender because of Ryan Miller's high ankle sprain, Lalime came down with severe flu symptoms in the overnight hours after his first start as the top man in net.

The Sabres told Lalime to stay home from practice to get some extra rest. Although he made the trip to Raleigh, N.C., later in the day, Lalime is questionable and it's possible the 20-year-old Enroth could make his first career start tonight.

"It falls under, 'When it rains, it starts snowing harder even,' " Ruff cracked when asked if he's starting to feel snakebit with the team's never-ending injury saga. "Around here, anything can happen and we've seen it. I don't want to overplay this. Patrick could be fine. You don't like the fact he's going to miss practice but that stuff happens."

Pressed on Lalime's status, Ruff admitted he didn't know if the veteran would be able to play tonight.

"That's a good question," Ruff said. "It all depends on how well he's feeling. Maybe he'll be able to go, maybe he won't."

It's quite a spot to thrust Enroth into. A regulation loss tonight could drop the Sabres to ninth place in the East, out of playoff position. Just last Thursday, a regulation win in Philadelphia could have pushed Buffalo within a point of fourth.

"It's exciting. If I play tomorrow, I'll try to play my best," said Enroth, a Swede who was Buffalo's second-round draft choice in 2006. "It's very exciting to get up here and see Patrick practice and play. . . . It's going to be even more exciting, a dream come true if I play."

Enroth is 18-17-5 this year at Portland of the AHL with a 2.71 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. But he's 0-6-3 in his last nine.

"You talk to their coaches and they've given him a lot of credit for the way he's played," Ruff said. "He's a pretty confident kid that stepped in the American League, and if you look at the job he did you wouldn't expect him to step in and play as well as he did the first 20-30 games."

"With any goaltender behind you, you need to play well in front of them," captain Craig Rivet said. "We're just going to try to be strong. We did a lot of good things in [Tuesday's] game and couldn't put loose pucks in the net. Then we made some mistakes ourselves that cost us.

"Whether Patty's in net or [Miller] or whoever, we'll always try to play our best in front of him."

If Lalime can't dress tonight, Ruff had no idea who would back up Enroth. What options would they have?

"You saw it there at the other end," Ruff said, laughing as he referred to Corsi. "And it didn't look too good, did it?"

With Enroth up and Adam Dennis out for the season (hip), things are dire in goal in Portland as well.

John DeCaro, just signed to back up Enroth, is out with a broken collarbone. The Pirates signed Kellen Briggs from the Ontario Reign of the East Coast League on Tuesday and are also using former ECHL backup Rob Lemelin.

One of them could be signed for a night to back up Enroth before Lalime returns for Saturday's game against the New York Islanders.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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