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Vanek skating but not playing; Savard still out

by John McGourty
BUFFALO -- Sabres leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who suffered a sprained ankle last Saturday in Game 2, skated for the third-straight day but won't be available for Game 5 Friday of Buffalo's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal final series against the Boston Bruins.

The Sabres trail the Bruins, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series (7 p.m. ET, CBC).

"(Vanek's) getting closer," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Yesterday (Thursday) was a pretty sore day for him. I think we're getting closer."

Ruff was asked if the Sabres' "mindset" was to have Vanek skate Saturday and Sunday so he could play Monday in Boston, if the Sabres avoid elimination Friday.

"There's no mindset," Ruff said. "If he felt he could play and be effective, he'd be in the lineup. We have one game to stay alive."

Ruff announced one other lineup change -- Nathan Gerbe would replace Raffi Torres. He also added that Cody McCormick, who had an assist on the Sabres' first goal in their 3-2 double-overtime loss in Game 4, would remain in the lineup.

Ruff initially was reluctant to discuss the switch to Gerbe, telling reporters, "You're hammering away at what I don't want to talk about. We're hoping it can bring us some scoring and maybe be a second-unit power-play guy who can add a little bit for us."

Ruff said he wasn't unhappy with Torres, saying "There are guys that I'm unhappier with, but they have to come through for me," meaning -- but not naming -- Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford. Connolly and Stafford had late-season injuries that may be hampering their effectiveness, but Ruff sees a need to keep them in the lineup."

Meanwhile, Boston's first-line center, Marc Savard, practiced with the Bruins for the first time since suffering a concussion March 7. Despite looking good on the ice, coach Claude Julien said Savard's lack of conditioning won't allow him to play in Game 5.

"No, I can guarantee you there's no surprise there," Julien said, adding Savard doesn't have medical clearance to play yet. "You don't come back from a serious concussion like that and say that, inside of a week, he's cleared. He's going through the protocol, going through different stages, but medically, not totally cleared yet. ... We've been cleared to skate him and try to put him back in shape.

"Our organization has always been about taking care of players' health first and we're not going to change that philosophy."

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