Billy Riley, the Washington Capitals' best corner man, suffered a cut tendon in his left ankle Sunday night and will be lost to the reeling hockey team indefinitely.

Riley's left leg will be in a cast for three to four weeks and then he faces a recuperative stretch. The injury occurred early in the second period of Sunday's 5-2 loss in Buffalo, when Riley was cut by the skate of Sabre defenseman Jim Schoenfeld.Incredibly, Riley finished the period.

"I was just coming across the buffalo blue line and Schoenfeld came across to take me," Riley recalled. "I don't know whether he slipped or what, but he came sliding into me skates first. He hit me in ankle and it was hurting, but I just thought it was an ordinary bruise.

"I almost got into a fight with (Lee) Fogolin after it happened, and I can imagine if I'd been wrestling and turning with him, I would have really done some damage to it.

"In the dressing room after the period, I was going to take the skate off and let Gumpy (trainer Gump Embro) take a look at it. There was blood all over the boot and the socks were soaked. The gash was so bad I couldn't see the beginning or end of it. The blood was thick red, so I knew it was serious."

It took 15 stitches to close the wound and, after further examination revealed the cut tendon, Riley underwent emergency surgery. (See Riley, D2, Col.6) (Riley, From D1) "I got shot with a 22 once as a kid," Riley said, "but this the worst injury I've had in hockey. A broken wrist was the only real problem before."

Right wing Riley, a determined digger was moved onto the Capitals' No. 1 line with Guy Charron and Bob Sirois a week ago, and the trio had accounted for five goals in four games. They provided one of the few bright spots in a depression created by a 13 game winless streak.

"Guy told me he was happy about the way we were working together," Riley said. "But everything's just gone wrong this year. I've never seen anything like it. The puck won't bounce for us.

"Bobby Sirois had one shot that hit the inside of the post and came all the way across and stayed out, and last night I deflected one from the point that should have gone in. Even then, I had two more whacks at it.

"We need a break. we've got to get a win right now. The guys are pressing all the time. But everybody goes into every game with a positive attitude. I really hope the fans at Capital Centre will stick with the guys."

For now, Riley will be joining those fans. He plans to work on weights, keeping his upper body in shape, but on game nights he will be a spectator, part of a growing group of noncombatant Capitals that includes Blair Stewart and Yvon Labre (knee surgery), Ace Bailey (stretched knee ligaments), Nelson Burton (infected elbow) and Rick Green (strained ligaments in right wrist).

The Capitals were hoping that either Burton or Bailey would be healthy enough to fill Riley's place on the roster for Wednesday's home game against Atlanta