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Sabres' Gaustad cleared to return @NHL

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -Sabres forward Paul Gaustad has been cleared to play and could return Friday when Buffalo hosts the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.

Gaustad, who practiced with the second penalty-killing unit Wednesday, has been out since severing a tendon above his left ankle Feb. 7. The Sabres initially feared he would be out until June.

"He'll be seeing the doctor tomorrow and we'll see where he's at and make a decision on it," coach Lindy Ruff said.

The Sabres returned home following a 2-1 loss Tuesday that allowed the Rangers to even the best-of-seven series at 2.

Gaustad had nine goals and 13 assists in 54 games and was providing a physical presence on a line with co-captain Chris Drury before he was hurt. Gaustad has missed 35 games, including all nine playoff games.

"It's kind of fun to get back into things," said Gaustad, who began skating three weeks ago. "Every day it's been rewarding to get better every day. It's been a long couple of months."

Defenseman Teppo Numminen missed practice Wednesday with a bruised right knee, but is expected to play Friday.

Ruff said forward Maxim Afinogenov will definitely return after he was benched in Game 4. Ruff was unhappy with Afinogenov's play this postseason, believing the dynamic forward was attempting to do too much and forcing too many mistakes.

"There's been lots of talk of where I need to get his game to," Ruff said. "I like Max, I just really feel he's struggling and maybe a game off would be good."

Coming off his third 20-goal season, Afinogenov has managed a goal and three assists in eight playoff games.

"It's tough to watch the games, but nothing you can do," said Afinogenov, who practiced with the team's second power-play unit.

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