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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Paul Gaustad (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The Buffalo Sabres will have frontman Paul Gaustad back in the lineup Thursday night as they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at HSBC Arena.

Paul Gaustad:Audio | Video
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Lindy Ruff: Audio | Video

Gaustad returns to play his first contest of the 2008-09 regular season after injuring his thumb in an exhibition game against the Minnesota Wild, resulting in surgery to repair ligaments in the finger.

“I’m ready for the game,” Gaustad said. “I’ve been preparing for it all summer and during the season I’ve been trying to stay as close to the team as I can; traveling, video, all of that.”

With fellow centermen Tim Connolly (back) and Jochen Hecht (finger) still out of the lineup, Gaustad will be a welcome force, especially in the face-off circle.

Ranking first on the team in that category last season, Gaustad won 54.9 percent of draws (winning 640 on 1,165 attempts) and finished 17th in the NHL among forwards.

“He feels he’s ready and we feel that he can be an asset for us,” Head Coach Lindy Ruff said.

Although he admittedly still feels some discomfort in his hand while taking faceoffs, Gaustad said it should not affect his play.

“I’m wearing a cast so it should help with the injury and if I re-injure [the thumb] again it should protect me from that,” Gaustad said. “Taking my glove off, that’s the only thing [I can’t do]. This thing is kind of stuck in there. I have to keep my gloves on.”

Gaustad practiced with wingers Andrew Peters and Patrick Kaleta on Wednesday morning at the Amherst Pepsi Center, although it is unclear whether he will remain on that line. The move likely leaves Matt Ellis as the odd-man out in the Sabres depth chart.

Gaustad had career highs in overall scoring with 36 points as well as goals (10) and assists (26) last season, his third year with the team. He also tallied 199 hits and compiled 85 penalty minutes while appearing in all 82 games last season for the Sabres.

Also hoping to near a return for Buffalo is defenseman Henrik Tallinder .

Tallinder suffered a laceration on his lower leg late on Oct. 25 during the Sabres’ shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

Although he did not participate in Wednesday’s practice, Ruff said he hopes to have the blueliner back in the lineup by this weekend.

“He put his skate on and tried to skate,” Ruff said. “It was better, but that cut is just in a real tough spot where the skate impacts the side of the ankle. It has made it tough for him to get through this. It’s right where the leather hits the ankle and we just haven’t gotten enough comfort level for him to skate through it.”

Ruff also updated the status of Tim Connolly as he and Jochen Hecht both practiced with the team.

“I’ve been wrong several times on Tim,” Ruff said of Connolly’s injury. “It’s one of those things that has been taking longer. I did also say when we get him back its in full blow… its not going to be play and no practices its going to be play and be able to play hard.  We’re trying to get him through it.

“I think he’s doubtful for the weekend. I anticipate some time next week he’ll be able to play. The good news is he’s getting some good work outs.  He’s been in pain and sore but it seems to be getting better.”

Connolly fractured two vertebrae in his back during the Sabres’ preseason match-up against the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 23. 
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