The Sabres flew to Philadelphia with a perilously thin defense corps. By the time the puck dropped against the Flyers on Thursday night, the unit was downright flattened.
Just minutes before the Sabres took the ice for their pregame warm-up in Wells Fargo Center, the team learned it would be without Alexander Sulzer. The defenseman had to fly to his home in Nashville to tend to a personal matter. It was unclear when he would rejoin the team.
"There's nothing you can do," coach Lindy Ruff said. "In his case it was an emergency and he had to leave."
Rookie T.J. Brennan, who is on the trip on an emergency basis, hastily dressed in his gear to replace Sulzer in the lineup in the 2-1 loss. It was the 10th career game and first in Philadelphia for Brennan, a native of neighboring Willingboro, N.J.
Sulzer had the most productive game of his career in the Sabres' previous outing. The defenseman had two goals and three points while skating 24:35. The trade-deadline acquisition had points in three straight games.
Brennan, summoned from Rochester last week, played for the Sabres on Saturday during their 4-3 loss in Toronto because of injuries to Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff.
Ruff paired Brennan with fellow rookie Brayden McNabb. Robyn Regehr started alongside Andrej Sekera, while Jordan Leopold and Mike Weber made up the other pair.
Brad Boyes' free fall from 43-goal scorer to invisible player continues. Ruff scratched the right winger for the second straight game.
Boyes has just six goals and 21 points in 64 games. The much-heralded acquisition at the 2011 trade deadline, who totaled 77 goals with St. Louis from 2007 to 2009, has one goal in his last 13 games.
Boyes went to the bench Tuesday against Toronto when Nathan Gerbe returned from injury. Gerbe received a line boost Thursday, moving from the fourth unit to left wing for center Cody Hodgson and right wing Thomas Vanek.
"We decided to go with more speed in the lineup," Ruff said. "Part of it is production. Part of it was we wanted to add -- we know that Nathan can add some tenacity and some speed to the game. The games have been typically three-line games, and where we've had him at we've just felt that Nathan would be more effective for us."
After getting shut out by the New York Rangers on Feb. 1, the Sabres were on a dubious pace to rank as the second lowest-scoring team in franchise history. They turned it around in a big way.
The Sabres entered Thursday's game with 207 goals, an average of 2.59 per game. In the 29 games since the blanking by the Rangers, they had averaged 3.03 goals per outing. They were rocking at a 4.25 clip in the previous eight games.
They had boosted their NHL ranking to 17th, up from 27th when they were scoring just 2.33 times per game.
"We've had a little chemistry since Tyler Ennis has moved in the middle," Ruff said. "The power play has been scoring some goals, which helps. It always lifts the offensive numbers. You like those numbers.
"I've said before usually the scoring goes in cycles. You can go through some tough stretches, and we went through a pretty tough stretch. Now we're going through a good one. Is four a game reasonable to think you can maintain? Probably not, but it's a good number."
The 2002-03 edition of the Sabres scored just 190 times, the only time the organization has failed to top 200 in a full season.
Victories by the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins set up what could be eight straight games of intense mayhem. The teams, who had a brawl late in a game last week, will meet in the first round of the playoffs. They also play Saturday in the regular-season finale.
"First off I want to see what kind of game it's going to be the next game," Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr said. "It's kind of a meaningless game. I know everything is kind of decided. I think it's going to be tough hockey also, and then the playoffs start.
"It's a rivalry."
The Penguins, who finished as the fourth seed, will have home-ice advantage. They won the last two postseason series between the clubs in 2008 and 2009.
Pittsburgh also hosts the finale, which should draw plenty of attention.
"We're going to go in there and play the game," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of Saturday's prequel. "We're here to win hockey games, I don't think that changes anything. There'll be no juggling in the standings. Given the choice to beat the Penguins or lose to the Penguins, we want to win."