Center Tim Connolly was satisfied with his performance in back-to-back games over the weekend, his first action in 11 months, but he knows there is room for improvement.
After missing the opening 80 games of the regular season, Connolly returned to Buffalo's lineup just in time to help the team clinch its first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history in his first game in 334 days.
"It's great to be back in the locker room before the games, back on the road with the guys and just to be out there playing," said Connolly following practice on Monday. "It's been a lot time and it's a lot of fun to be back out there.
"It was a great feeling [to be part of the team when they won the Presidents' Trophy], because it still was a meaningful game."
The center averaged just over 13 minutes of ice time per game against the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers. He finished the two-day road trip with a goal, two penalty minutes and a plus-one rating, while winning 50 percent of his faceoffs.
More important than statistics, Connolly saw time in all facets of the game - five-on-five, power play and penalty kill - and never looked out of place despite the extended layoff.
"I was satisfied just to get in there and get a couple of games," said Connolly.
"I still spend a lot of time at HSBC Arena, warming up and cooling down before and after practice. I'm still going to have to take a day off to recover here and there, so that I can work harder the next day. But overall, for only being on the ice for a couple of weeks, I felt pretty good out there for those two games."
Connolly has always understood the old cliche, "You never know what you've got until it's gone."
"I knew how much I missed it," said Connolly. "I love the game and you love playing. It's just exciting to be back out there."
His return is more of a work in progress than a completed process.
Connolly continues to focus on his conditioning, knowing that his ultimate goal is to regain his form from the 2005-06 regular season when he set career highs in goals (16), assists (39) and points (55). That season, he entered training camp in the best physical shape of his career.
Following a successful regular season in 05-06, Connolly went on to lead the Sabres with 11 points (5+6) in eight playoff games before being sidelined by an open-ice hit administered by Ottawa's Peter Schaefer in the second round.
"This is the real season now," said Connolly referring to the playoffs. "The excitement level is a lot higher. I know the atmosphere in HSBC Arena is going to be unbelievable.
"I's going to be really exciting for all the guys."
BROADCAST Fans will be able to hear Rick Jeanneret and Jim Lorentz call all the action in Buffalo's opening round series against the New York Islanders. MSG will be broadcasting all first-round contests.