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Vanek sits again for Sabres in Game 4

by John McGourty
BOSTON -- Buffalo forward Thomas Vanek sat out Wednesday night's Game 4 against the Boston Bruins after being labeled a "game-time decision" by coach Lindy Ruff at the morning skate.

"He is doing well. Like I said yesterday, I didn’t really anticipate him skating today," Ruff said Wednesday morning. "He felt better so that part was encouraging. That will be a game-time decision on whether he plays. We’re just trying to get him a little extra ice time to see what he looks like."

The Sabres hope Vanek will be ready to go when the series returns to Buffalo on Friday.

Vanek suffered a left ankle sprain during the first period of Game 2 on Saturday when he was checked into the end boards behind the Boston net by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. He has been wearing a protective boot since the injury and he was limping badly as he left the interview room to return to the trainer's room Wednesday morning.

Vanek did not return to Saturday's game, which the Bruins won 5-3 to even the series at one victory apiece. The Bruins won 2-1,in Boston on Monday to take a 2-1 series lead, and that victory added to Vanek's impatience. He said Tuesday he wanted to play Monday but couldn't.

Vanek, a two-time 40-goal scorer, had been one of the hottest players in the League before his injury. He scored 4 goals against Ottawa in the next-to-last game of the regular season on April 10, then added the Sabres' only goal in New Jersey the following day.

Vanek also opened the scoring in Game 1 against the Bruins as the Sabres claimed a 2-1 win in the series opener.

On Wednesday morning, Vanek skated, took shots and tested his turning ability during practice. He then joined his teammates in a short game of shinny.

Vanek was asked if he was pushing too hard to get back in the lineup, that maybe he isn't ready to return. "If I'm not, I wouldn't put myself in that position," Vanek said. "We're going to talk about it realistically. I feel like I can and if coach feels like I can help the team, I'll be in."

Vanek didn't answer directly when he was asked if he had full range of motion in his left ankle. "I feel better. I feel better than I did yesterday, which is good," he said.

Vanek said if the team decided to rest him Wednesday, he'll try to play Friday in Game 5 in Buffalo. "My gut wanted to play Monday. It's not about just playing, it's about helping your teammates out," he said.

Ruff also said that Cody McCormick has been called up from the AHL Portland Pirates and will replace center Matt Ellis on Wednesday. McCormick and Ellis both practiced. Ellis took a hard check from Boychuk on Monday that broke his nose. He said he fit to play but the coach decided to use McCormick, who is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds.

McCormick was Colorado's fifth-round pick in 2001 and played parts of five seasons with the Avalanche. In 190 NHL games, he has 9 goals and 30 points with 250 penalty minutes. The Sabres signed McCormick as a free agent last summer. He had 17 goals and 29 points with 168 penalty minutes in 66 games with the Pirates.

"(McCormick) is playing very well," Ruff said. "He is a guy that has played 16 to 20 minutes a game down there [Portland]. He is a big body that can get to the front of the net. I think he can win battles down low.

"We're going to talk about it realistically. I feel like I can [help] and if coach feels like I can help the team, I'll be in."
-- Thomas Vanek

"Without (Jochen) Hecht, without Vanek, without some bigger bodies, some of the battles have gone the other way and I think a big guy that will be able to win some battles will be important for us. He is thought very highly of by Portland and if we can get 16 to 17 minutes out of him, I think he will be able to bring us a lot tonight.

"He has been in our system all year long. He plays the game real hard and I think that when you look at a guy like him, he is excited about this opportunity. He is excited about playing. He is real excited about trying to help."

Ruff also said the Sabres will be bringing up an as-yet-undetermined number of players from the Pirates, who were swept out of the Calder Cup playoffs Tuesday in Manchester.

"That is being decided today and there will be players that will be brought up," Ruff said. "We can only look back at our past playoff experiences and how many players we had to use. You look at the Carolina series [2006 conference final], we were 10 defenseman deep. Those factors will factor in to how many players we will have for us."

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