Ruff, Sabres again make all the right moves

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was pondering lineup changes after a Game 2 loss in Carolina, he came upon the idea of inserting long-forgotten defenseman Jeff Jillson into the lineup.

Jillson, a first-round draft pick (14th overall) of the Sharks in 1999, spent most of the season with the club's AHL affiliate in Rochester. Ruff figured Jillson's right-hand shot would help replace injured veteran Teppo Numminen on the power play.

The move was something of a reach because Jillson had played just two NHL games during the regular season. He hadn't suited up for the Sabres since Nov. 9, oddly enough, against the Hurricanes. And Ruff just happened to remember it.

"I got the tape of that game and watched it the other day," Ruff said after his team grabbed a 2-1 series lead with a 4-3 win at the HSBC Arena on Wednesday. "He played pretty good in that game."

In the playoffs, when injuries start to pile up, sometimes you have to play on a hunch. In Game 3, Ruff rolled the dice with Jillson, who admitted he was a little nervous to jump into a playoff game.

"I was just trying to keep everything simple," Jillson said. "I hadn't played a game in a while and I hadn't played an NHL game in a pretty long time."

The former University of Michigan star played 10:31, contributing a shot and a hit. His stats weren't fancy, but they didn't have to be. Jillson's job was to fill in some minutes between the Sabres' regular defenders.

Or, what's left of the Sabres' normal defense.

The club lost Dmitri Kalinin to an ankle injury in the second round. He is listed as week-to-week. That gives you the idea you won't be seeing him any time soon.

Then, Numminen went down in Game 1 at Carolina. Ruff replaced him with another minor leaguer, Doug Janik. Looking for a different look, Ruff exchanged one J for another, replacing Janik with Jillson.

And just when you thought things couldn't get any worse, defenseman Henrik Tallinder left Wednesday's game with about six minutes remaining in the third period with what was described as an "upper-body injury." In other words, he has a boo-boo, and that boo-boo might keep him from playing in Friday's Game 4. If that's the case, both J's might be in the lineup.

Of course, if you've followed the Sabres this season, you know they'll persevere.

"It's just the way it's been for us all year," said Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere. "We have had key injuries. We had a little slump in November and everybody thought we were fading. We came back strong and went on a tear. Then, we had another little slump in March and people thought we were finally done. But, again, we came back strong.

"We just have that confidence that we know we can bounce back from bad outings, bad games, from tough breaks," Briere continued. "It's not something you can teach. We believe in ourselves and in each other. We have the same guys that have been around since Day 1 of training camp. There haven't been any new faces. We just keep working together."

They certainly do.

On Wednesday, in a critical moment, a forgotten man stepped out of the shadows to play a small part. If you're going to win a championship, those types of things have to happen. The way things have gone in Buffalo, you just wonder who it's going to be next.

EJ Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send EJ a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.