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Sabres winger Kotalik ready to return; Lydman, Paille close behind @NHLdotcom

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - The Buffalo Sabres are getting healthier just in time for the playoffs, with forward Ales Kotalik the latest player ready to return.

Kotalik, who's missed 16 games with a right knee injury, practised on Monday and is expected to play in Buffalo's home game against New Jersey on Wednesday.

The sharp-shooting forward, who plans to play with a knee brace, had 14 goals and 36 points in 59 games before he was hurt. He practised on a line with centre Chris Drury and Dainius Zubrus, acquired last month in a trade with Washington.

Besides welcoming back Kotalik, coach Lindy Ruff said defenceman Toni Lydman, who's missed five games with an undisclosed upper body injury, and rookie forward Daniel Paille, who's missed 15 games with a broken left index finger, are also close to returning.

That's good news for the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres, who have seven games left and have a shot at finishing with the NHL's best record. Buffalo, which has already clinched a playoff spot, had 103 points as of Monday, tied for first overall with West-leading Nashville.

Once all three players return, the Sabres would be the healthiest they've been in months, missing only two regulars: right-winger Maxim Afinogenov, who's missed 17 games with a broken left wrist, and centre Tim Connolly, who's missed the entire season because of concussion-related symptoms.

Afinogenov could be back in time for the playoffs, and will be evaluated next week to determine his progress, Ruff said.

Connolly's return hit a setback last month when he sustained a stress fracture in his leg. He resumed practising last week, but has not yet been cleared for contact.

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