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Quick recovery expected for Stafford

Sabres forward Drew Stafford will likely miss the next two games with a minor groin injury, which was construed as good news Wednesday. Coach Lindy Ruff initially feared his most effective right winger would be lost for an extended period while they continued chasing the final playoff spot.

"It is a relief," Ruff said after practice in HSBC Arena. "He's walking fine, and his strength is pretty good. It all bodes well for coming back quickly."

Stafford, who had 15 goals in 30 games and missed 15 other contests with injuries, did not practice Wednesday.

Ruff and General Manager Darcy Regier huddled before deciding to summon Marc-Andre Gragnani from AHL Portland late Wednesday evening.

Gragnani is a smooth-skating defenseman-turned-forward who had five assists Saturday against Worcester. In 38 games, he had seven goals and 30 points.

The 6-foot-2, 23-year-old has appeared in six games with the Sabres since 2007 but hasn't played an NHL game since the 2008-09 season.

Other options included center Luke Adam, who was shipped back to the farm Tuesday for more playing time. He has three goals in 18 games with the Sabres. Paul Byron, Matt Ellis and Mark Mancari, who has played well in recent weeks, were other potential fill-ins for Stafford.

The Sabres play four games in six nights starting this evening. Ruff hoped Stafford would be back after the Sabres play the Islanders on Friday at home.

After a day off Saturday, the Sabres again face the Islanders on Sunday afternoon on Long Island and finish up at Ottawa on Tuesday night.

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Ruff was forced to move several forwards around with Stafford missing practice. He had Jochen Hecht between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville; Tim Connolly centering for Tyler Ennis and Cody McCormick; Paul Gaustad between Nathan Gerbe and Mike Grier; and Rob Niedermayer with Patrick Kaleta and the other three left wingers.

Gerbe was praised for his effort against the Canadiens.

The rookie didn't have any points but irritated the Habs most of the evening and drew a critical penalty that led to the winning goal. He also had several good scoring chances, including one in which Carey Price made a great save after a faceoff.

"He played a game where there was a lot of passion, a lot of energy," Ruff said. "He put a lot of work into it. His discipline was good inside the game. When somebody is working that hard, you notice him. You can build off that and feel good about it."

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Ruff passed along his condolences to the family of center Brian Roloff, whose older brother, Eric, died Sunday after a battle with cancer. Brian Roloff grew up in West Seneca, signed with his hometown team last summer and was assigned to Portland.

"It's a gut-wrenching story," Ruff said. "I don't know him, but my sympathy goes out to him. It makes you feel like you should appreciate every day a little bit more when you see something like that."

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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