The Washington Capitals managed to get by without Rod Langway for one game, but the consensus was that they'd rather not go through that again.

Langway is expected back for tonight's game against the Buffalo Sabres at Capital Centre (Home Team Sports, 7:35) after a bout with stomach flu that kept him out of Thursday's 5-4 victory over the New York Rangers. It was the first time the defenseman missed a game in his 2 1/2-year career in Washington.

That included 222 straight games since he was acquired from Montreal in 1982. And Langway almost made it to Madison Square Garden. He got up from his hotel sickbed several times, but was forced back by dizziness.

Five other Capitals were suffering from stomach ailments, although of a different nature. Defensemen Larry Murphy, Darren Veitch and Dave Shand and goalie Pat Riggin were all suffering from upset stomachs after eating in a Chinese restaurant in New York.

Riggin apparently suffered the most and, like Langway, also missed yesterday's practice. But he was expected to make his 12th straight start against the Sabres.

Langway still was weak yesterday but made the return trip with the team. He went straight home, missing the afternoon practice. He was listed as doubtful for Buffalo after Thursday night's game, but apparently was feeling better.

"If I know Rod, he'll probably get up and be out there in 24 hours for the Sabres," Coach Bryan Murray said. Langway's presence will be welcome after some rough moments defensively in Thursday's game. Although the Capitals learned valuable lessons about self-reliance against the struggling Rangers, they wouldn't want to try it again against the more dangerous Sabres.

Mike McEwen, who usually plays the right side with Langway, was moved to the left side with Timo Blomqvist and found himself occasionally out of position. The Capitals managed to dodge the bullets, but sometimes it was luck and the Rangers' penchant for self-destruction. The Rangers missed two power play opportunities, and then in a brief third-period stretch had the Capitals backed up in their own zone, getting off three shots without scoring.

"It (Langway's absence) was certainly a factor going in," Murray said. "We're psychologically dependent on him from a leadership point of view. But the guys played very responsibly."

One encouraging development was the play of Scott Stevens, who in Langway's absence had a great defensive game, in addition to scoring a goal and an assist. "To say Rod Langway was not missed would be foolish," said Mike Gartner, who scored two goals. "It was just one game, so that helped. Everybody pulled up their socks and played harder. Guys like Stevens worked to pick up the slack."

The Sabres are vying with Montreal for first in the Adams Division, trailing the Canadiens by four points. In keeping with the Capitals' recent schedule, which has been a series of previews of potential playoff games, this could be the matchup for the Prince of Wales conference title.

The game is all the more important in light of the Philadelphia Flyers' schedule. The Flyers, who trail the Capitals by four points in the Patrick Division, will play in Quebec tonight and then at the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. The Capitals are idle Sunday, and should they lose tonight and the Flyers win, Philadelphia could tie them for first place by Sunday.