Paul Gaustad has become the antithesis of the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres. Gaustad is one doctor's appointment away from returning to the Sabres lineup, after being told that the sliced tendon that he suffered on Feb. 10 would be a season-ending injury.
Gaustad will finally know if the two months of rigorous training and rehab are completely over when he meets with team doctors for a final evaluation this afternoon.
"I'm not sure if I'm in the lineup yet," said Gaustad. "We'll see how the doctors appointment goes today. Skating wise, I feel pretty good. Everyday, it's been getting a little bit better, so I'm pretty excited about it.
"It was devastating when I found out that I couldn't play for the rest of the season. I just had to try to get back as soon as possible. Everyday has been a little bit more exciting for me and right now, skating with the team, I'm just looking forward to a game."
Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff left little doubt that the center would be in the lineup in Game Five if the diagnosis returns positive.
"I don't think it would be a difficult decision," said Ruff. "He's worked extremely hard and he's been a big part of this team.
"If he gets cleared to play and I don't put him in, I think he'll bust down my office door."
According to Ruff, Gaustad went through another successful day of practice on Thursday.
If active on Friday, the six-foot-five, 222-pound center would insert another level of physical play to Buffalo's lineup.
"I'm not going to try to do anything different, like trying to become a goal scorer now that I was out three months," said Gaustad, who recorded nine goals and 22 points, while logging 74 penalty minutes in 54 games during the regular season. "I'm just going to be physical."
"That's the style that's gotten me to the NHL and I'm not going to abandon that now. I'm going to get to the net and hit as much as I can."
The mystery of Gaustad's injury left some room for debate as to when he could return. Due to it's uncommon occurrence, sliced tendon injuries have to be accessed on an individual basis.
The unusualness of the injury gave Gaustad a window of hope two months ago.
"It's one of those injuries that nobody really knows the healing process," said Gaustad. "You need patience and every person is different. I did everything possible to get back as quick as I could."
"He's been that determined to work that hard when somebody told him months ago that that's probably your season," said Ruff. "He's been such a character guy and such a hard working player that it would be an easy decision.
"It just sums up the effort that this team has put together all year long. It's that never-say-die attitude. I told [the team] today, there hasn't been a situation from different games where, even early on in the year, we got down two goals or three goals, and we didn't try to come back. There hasn't been an ounce of quit in you guys all year long. Not one once. That's been the most impressive part about it. They've answered every challenge."