BOSTON - Thomas Vanek just has to tell his coach he's ready and he'll be back in the Buffalo Sabres lineup. Marc Savard must convince doctors and Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien that he is OK to play.
At least Savard knows he'll have another chance to get back on the ice, even if he misses Monday night's game.
Two of the top offensive players in the best-of-seven series hope to return for Game 6, when Buffalo will face elimination in Boston. The Bruins lead the series 3-2.
Savard, the Bruins' top playmaker, has been out since sustaining a Grade 2 concussion on March 7. Vanek, the Sabres' leading goal scorer, hasn't played since injuring his left ankle in the first period of the second game of the series.
"When he feels that he can be effective, he's going to play," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Sunday after Vanek practiced for the second straight day. "I've told him that, 'When you think you can be effective, you're playing.' If he knocks on my door (Monday) and says, 'I'm ready,' he's playing."
Vanek's competitive juices might have brought him back earlier, but the left winger said Sunday his ankle is still sore. That didn't prevent him from getting in some work on the power play.
"I never said I can't play," Vanek said. "I wanted to play the last two, but, obviously, we talked. We have to be realistic about it. And I said before, if (Ruff) doesn't feel like, if we both feel like I can't really help the team, then there's no point of going and taking a spot away from somebody else."
Vanek had 28 goals and 25 assists in the regular season and kept going in the playoffs. He scored the first goal in Buffalo's 2-1 win in the series opener and assisted on the first goal of Boston's 5-3 win in Game 2, despite playing just 4 minutes, 22 seconds.
Savard hasn't played since absorbing a blindside hit from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke seven weeks ago. The centre skated with his teammates for the first time on Sunday and is scheduled for a neuro-psych test on Monday.
"It's a tough situation, obviously. It's a huge game and I haven't played in a long time. But I felt great out there," Savard said. "I don't know what the situation is. We haven't talked much about it yet. So, obviously, it's not looking good right now."
One issue for Julien is Savard's conditioning. Another is that the forwards hasn't received medical clearance to play.
The Sabres are coming off a 4-1 win at home on Friday night. If they make it two in a row, they'll be back in Buffalo for the deciding game of the series on Wednesday night. Lose and the season is over.
Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller, who has had a solid series, said his approach doesn't change.
"Keep doing it until they tell us we can't do it any more," he said. "It's just been the attitude I've been trying to take all year. Put everything out there, do it the same way, with intensity. It's appropriate intensity. It's not, 'I'm going to sit here and bash my head off the wall."'
The Bruins already wasted one chance to wrap up the series and don't want to go back to Buffalo.
"They want to close out as quickly as possible and give their best effort," Sabres captain Craig Rivet said. "At the same time, we're at the other end of the scale. We're playing for our playoff lives. ... We have a confident bunch of guys that want to go into Boston. We know it's going to be even more difficult to play there."
The Bruins have won their last four home games, two in the playoffs. But the Sabres have scored the first goal in all five playoff games.
"It'd be nice to get a first goal," Boston captain Zdeno Chara said. "That's always a big energy boost. So we have to focus on getting a really good start and be ready for them."
Chara will play after the NHL rescinded his one-game suspension. That suspension was automatic, subject to review, because the instigating penalty he received Friday night was in the last five minutes. It came after he was slashed on the back of his leg by Paul Gaustad. Chara unleashed a flurry of punches that led to an 11-player skirmish in the final seconds.
"I think the league did a great job recognizing the whole situation," Chara said. "Obviously, I wasn't initiating, I was just responding."
Might the intensity erupt into fisticuffs again in what has been a physical series?
"You don't like to see that at the end of the game, with guys going after anybody on your team, but especially your captain," said forward Milan Lucic, one of Boston's toughest players. "Everybody knows the best way to get back at them is having a good effort, a good start and sticking them where it really hurts."
The carryover the Sabres would like to see is Friday night's offensive dominance that kept them in the series.
"That was our best game of this series," Miller said, "but we definitely have more."