Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff was all smiles during his team's morning skate on Tuesday.
What had Ruff so cheery when his team trails the Carolina Hurricanes three games to two in the Eastern Conference Finals? The prospect of getting one of his best defensemen, Teppo Numminen, back in the lineup for Game Six.
"He feels better today," said Ruff. "We're encouraged again. I'm past the doubtful stage now and moved to optimistic that he will be able to play tonight."
Numminen, who has missed Buffalo's last four games after suffering a pulled groin eight minutes into Game One of the best-of-seven series, will remain a game time decision, using the warm-up skate as a barometer for his injury.
If the pain and limited mobility that he has experienced over the past week persists, he will miss his fifth consecutive game. If not, he will play.
After skating fluidly during a couple of different drills and some on his own, the veteran is hopefully that the worst is behind him.
"It was sore yesterday, so I guess it comes and goes," said Numminen. "But its feels great this morning. Hopefully after the warm-up, it will still feel good and we'll be good to go."
"If he doesn't feel any pain and is able to perform at a high enough level, push himself hard enough in the warm-up, he'll play," Ruff said.
Although his team is attempting to force its third-round series to a Game Seven, Numminen cannot force himself to into the lineup. By game time, he will know whether or not the injury will make playing feasible.
"That type of injury you can play or you can't," said Numminen of the all or nothing condition a groin injury presents. "The time has gone by and hopefully it's healed."
According to Ruff, the ultimate decision will be Numminen's as he is the only person that knows his limitations and extent of the injury.
The 37-year-old defenseman has played in 65 career playoff games - scoring nine goals and 19 points - over his 17-season career, but had never made it out of the first round until now.
"I feel much better than I did a couple of days ago, and hopefully, we're there," said Numminen.