BOSTON -- It hurt just to watch Thomas Vanek try to walk and skate in the week preceding his return to the lineup for Monday's Game 6. Vanek was injured during Game 2 in Buffalo, the 5-3 victory that gave the Boston Bruins home-ice advantage that they never relinquished in the six-game series.
Vanek underwent intensive therapy and returned to skating last Wednesday -- skating gingerly for the first four days. He looked pretty good on Sunday in Buffalo but was on the ice for only a few minutes Monday morning at TD Garden before declaring himself ready for Game 6.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told Vanek and the media that he had to be ready to go full tilt in Game 6, and Vanek did. He skated 16 minutes, 32 seconds in 23 shifts and had the goal that brought the Sabres to within 4-3 with 1:13 remaining in the game. But he was also on the ice for Bruins goals by David Krejci and Miroslav Satan and finished minus-1.
"I was surprised how well he made out," Ruff said. "There were a few shifts he had to short-shift. But overall, he was in alone to score the late one. A little bit of conditioning was an issue tonight. I was very impressed how he came through it and how he ended up playing."
"I tried my hardest out there," Vanek said. "I'm disappointed. I had some good chances and I didn't bury them so that's my fault."
Vanek's teammates weren't so harsh.
"I thought he did a great job fighting through it," goalie Ryan Miller said. "That's a tough injury to play with and we were happy to have him on the ice. For him to contribute like that, it's big. Too bad we don't have him for one more night."
"He came back as soon as he was available to us," Adam Mair said. "He worked hard, two and three times a day getting treatment on his ankle, and he gave an honest effort tonight, and that's all you can ask a teammate."
Vanek was asked if his team started the game with the kind of intensity that led to their 4-1 victory Friday in Buffalo.
"We were pretty desperate," Vanek said. "On my first shift, I had a good chance and I put in right in (Boston goalie Tuukka Rask's) chest. In the second period, I missed (the net). I was put back in the lineup to bring offense and I disappointed them."
Vanek said he had good energy Monday night. He was just upset about his shooting.
"I didn't get worse," he said of his stamina. "I didn't think about it too much. I felt good and I tried my best out there. I worked to get some chances and I didn't bury them."
Vanek led the Sabres with 28 goals and 10 power-play goals. He had a lower-body injury that caused him to miss eight games in March and April, but he came back with a five-goal effort in the final two regular-season games, four against Ottawa and one against New Jersey.
Then he had a goal in Buffalo's 2-1 victory in Game 1 and an assist to help Buffalo go up, 2-0, in Game 2 before he got hurt. On a rush, he was hooked and crumpled into the end boards by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was penalized for the hook.
"I felt that at the end of the year, I played my best hockey and then that happened," Vanek said. "I guess that's part of the game."
Vanek couldn't help the Sabres end their power-play woes. The Bruins killed all 22 of the Sabres' power plays in the series, including three in Game 6. Vanek had 2:53 minutes of power-play time Monday.
"We prided ourselves on our special teams all season," Vanek lamented. "We didn't have a power-play goal the whole series. … At the same time, we had leads and gave them away. That didn't help either."