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by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

Country music pumped out of the sound system as a handful of players took the ice Thursday morning for an optional skate following the Buffalo Sabres’ 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who missed the game because of the flu, skated, as did goaltender Chad Johnson, who has been out since March 6 with an ankle injury.

Sabres coach Ted Nolan said that Ristolainen should be available to play Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. He was less optimistic about Johnson being able to return to the lineup before the season ends on April 11. But Johnson hopes to by ready to go by that weekend.

Johnson took some shots during practice and worked on some in-game scenarios like moving from post to post. Most importantly perhaps, he continues to get more comfortable putting pressure on that right leg as he manages the different pain thresholds.

“It’s definitely a tough situation. If you have two games, I don’t know what it really will do, but just personally, it’ll be nice to get in and sort of get acquainted with everything and get my feet wet in the organization here,” he said. “It’s just exciting just to know I might be able to get in a couple games. But again, I don’t want to get my hopes up too much because if it’s not right then I’m not going to push it.”

Johnson was injured on the last shot he faced during the morning skate in Ottawa before his first scheduled start. He’s under contract for next season, but hopes he can still make a difference this year.

Buffalo acquired him along with a third-round pick from the New York Islanders for goaltender Michal Neuvirth on March 2.

“My whole perspective was to come in and be a positive influence for the team and try to help them win hockey games,” Johnson said. “That was for this year and that was for next year too. It would only be two games possibly or a game, but it’s still good to get in and let people see that I can contribute to the team here and make them better.

“If it happens, it happens. If not then I’ll definitely look forward to it next year.”

As for the country music? Johnson thinks Cody McCormick, who skated with the team without any pads on as he recovers from blood clots, may have had something to do with it.

“I heard some Carrie Underwood some hopefully the guys and everybody kept their minds in the right places,” he said. “It was definitely an interesting playlist today.”

Goaltender Matt Hackett did not skate as he continues to heal from a knee injury sustained last April. Nolan said they’ll manage his practice time and that he could possibly be ready to go against Chicago.

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