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Vanek doesn't sound optimistic about Game 5 return

by John McGourty
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Injured Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek looked and sounded discouraged Thursday about his second straight day of skating since suffering an ankle sprain in Saturday's Game 2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said he won't play Vanek "if he's 75 percent," adding it will be a game-time decision whether Vanek plays in Game 6 at HSBC Arena on Friday night. The Sabres, the Northeast Division champions, face elimination, trailing the Bruins 3-1 in the best-of-7 series, 3-1 (7 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC).

"I guess it was better than yesterday," said Vanek, who led the Sabres with 28 goals, including 10 on the power play. "It wasn't the biggest jump I was looking for, I guess. It felt pretty good."

Vanek skated gingerly both days and walked poorly without his protective boot. Ruff said playing a below-par Vanek could hurt both the player and the team.

"If he's 75 percent and the pace of that game is the way it is, it might be a very bad place to be," Ruff said.

"I would love dearly to put him in but the way the pace has been and the way Tim Connolly has been in a limited role coming off of his (foot injury that caused him to miss the last nine games of the regular season), if I'm down two players into the game, it puts us in a real bad spot.

"There was no stopping and starting, there was no battling, there was no trying to stress it," Ruff said of Vanek's effort Thursday. "You can take a chance. We'll see. That will be the big discussion."

Vanek was injured in the second period Saturday when he was hooked, slashed and ridden hard into the end boards by Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who was penalized. Vanek could not put his weight on his left leg as he skated off with help. The Sabres, who led 2-0 when Vanek left, lost 5-3.

Ruff said the Sabres "don't have a lot of room for error" but with goalie Ryan Miller, recently named a finalist for Vezina Trophy voting, "we can easily win. ... We can crawl back."

Ruff praised Tyler Ennis, Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta for their energy in Wednesday's game and his whole team for being "the more physical team." Then he took a shot at energetic Bruins forward Vladimir Sobotka, who was targeted for good checks often Wednesday, referring to him as "that little Sobotka who's ducking now, doesn't want to get hit by Ennis (5-foot-9, 146 pounds) now.

The Bruins skated Thursday at their practice facility in Wilmington, Mass. Injured center Marc Savard, who hasn't played since suffering a concussion in a game on March 7, traveled with the team and will practice Friday in Buffalo but will not play again until he's reached a suitable fitness level.

"Just getting my wind back. You can do biking or whatever you want, but nothing's like being on the ice," Savard said. "Just keep taking it one day at a time and get stronger that way."

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