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by Brian Wheeler / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres hoped their most talented center would be able to return to the ice in the rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday.  But Tim Connolly's abdominal injury may have other plans.

"Right now, it doesn't look favorable that we're going to get him back in," said head coach Lindy Ruff. 

Audio: Lindy Ruff Interview 
Video: Paul Gaustad Post-Practice
Video: Jason Pominville Post-Practice
Video: Lindy Ruff Post-Practice
Video: Thomas Vanek Post-Practice

Connolly didn't show the type improvement that the coaching staff had hoped heading into HSBC Arena Wednesday morning.  The Syracuse, NY native missed the team's last three games and is in danger of being absent a fourth if he doesn't improve overnight.

Ruff had originally planed the morning skate around the possibility of Connolly's insertion, moving Maxim Afinogenov was moved on a line with Mike Ryan and Andrew Peters.  The idea being that Connolly would be substituted between the left winger and either forward.

Now there is a possibility that Afinogenov will be skating with both Peters and Ryan.

A final decision on Connolly's playing status will not be made until Thursday morning.

Rookie Clarke MacArthur has made an impression on the Sabres coaching staff and is being rewarded with more responsibility.

MacArthur worked the left halfwall with Buffalo's top power-play unit Wednesday morning, a  position previously held by Connolly and then Drew Stafford

Stafford had been filling in during the last few games but with just one goal in the last 17 man-advantage opportunities, the Sabres need a spark. 

MacArthur provided just that in his season debut with the overtime, game winner on Nov. 7 against Boston, the team's only victory in their last seven.  Before being recalled, MacArthur led the Rochester Americans with five PP scores in 14 games.

The Sabres blueline is almost healthy.  Nolan Pratt is ready to make his second start in a Sabres uniform, he just doesn't know when that will be.  Ruff said the team is going to make a decision whether to dress the veteran on back-to-back nights after coming off a groin injury on Thursday morning.  The cautious route would leave Pratt in the press box for one of the two games.

Buffalo continues their Northeast Division tour on Friday against the Montreal Canadiens in HSBC Arena.

Quotable:  "I think a little bit a rivalry is good for us.  There is some built up hatred between teams.  We knocked them off, they knocked us off.  Now we get to meet again." 

    -- Lindy Ruff on traveling to Ottawa on Thursday night
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