BOSTON -- Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff explained to the media why and how he's putting Thomas Vanek into the lineup in Game 6 Monday night (7 p.m. ET, CBC). To insert Vanek, Ruff had to take someone out, and after speculation that it would be Cody McCormick, Nathan Gerbe or Drew Stafford -- who recently suffered a concussion and has no points in three playoff games -- it was confirmed that Stafford will sit Monday.
Ruff talked about that decision and more following Monday's practice at TD Garden:
Q: Will Thomas Vanek play tonight?
Ruff: "He has to skate this morning, but all indications point toward he's going to play."
Q: Is his condition greatly improved over yesterday or a few days ago?
Ruff: "Can we go over this one more time? There's only one person that knows how he feels and that's Thomas. It's the type of injury, like a groin injury, that the doctor can't rub it, he can't stretch it. The player has say, 'I feel good on the ice. I can go all out. I can sprint. I can stop.' There's only person and I reference Thomas will tell me when he can play. Thomas is the only one that can tell me, 'I'm healthy. I can play. I feel good enough to play now. I don't have any pain pushing off. I can stop and start.' Even the doctor can't diagnose that for us. It's in Thomas's hands.
"Like a lot of injuries, when they get down to the very end, the only decision I can make is whether I think his conditioning can get him through a game. I think it will be. He indicated yesterday he felt that he was ready to play.
"He was really going well before he got hurt. He was a big part of the offense. He's a big part of our power play and one of the best net-front guys in the League."
Q: If he can't play a full game, can he be effective in a limited role?
Ruff: "I've said to him that he's got to go all-in. It's got to be all-in, right off the bat. That doesn't mean he can make it through the game or not make it through the game. I don't know. But you can't ease him in this game. This isn't a game you can ease him in. It's all-in right from the start. Then we'll see where we're at after the first period or even after the first shift. We'll see how he's doing.
"I've gone through that whole scenario. This is the type of game that if one team is down, if you're down halfway through the game, coaches will tend to go to three lines. You're going to lay it all on the line anyways. I would predict that unless it's tied and we're still rolling four lines, somebody is going to put extra ice time on their key players to try to win a hockey game."
Ruff: "They're just re-focused. I really liked the way they played. You go through those tough stretches for a lot of games and your play deteriorates a little bit. Even after the Olympic break, the way they played has been a lot better and more consistent.
"If you look at how we played on that trip, and how those two individuals played, the answer was, try a severe wake-up call. Because the last couple of games, when we played really well, there were big mistakes that cost us hockey games. We can go to the San Jose game, the Vancouver game, there were some big moments that were important for our team and they were a disappointing part of it."
Q: Given the way he's played, does Mike Grier's age and longevity contribute to his effectiveness in the playoffs?
"This is the type of game that if one team is down, if you're down halfway through the game, coaches will tend to go to three lines. You're going to lay it all on the line anyways. I would predict that unless it's tied and we're still rolling four lines, somebody is going to put extra ice time on their key players to try to win a hockey game." -- Lindy RuffRuff: "I think all those veteran players cherish the opportunity to be in the postseason and have a chance to win it. I think they realize at this point in the game they're not going to have too many more chances. It's a great lesson for younger players.
"It's really what (Mark) Recchi has done for Boston so far in this series and how hard he's played. I put those two guys kind of in the same category."
Q: You've said that you're happy with the energy Cody McCormick has given your team. If Vanek plays, will McCormick play?
Ruff: "I'm not going to announce who I'm taking out but Cody has played well for us, yes. We've toyed with the reason that (Nathan) Gerbe went in. We were looking for a second power-play unit that could give us a boost. I really felt that in the 1:20 they were on, that unit had two or three good chances and Nathan did a good job for us. Our secondary unit wasn't giving us anything. In fact, we were giving up chances, so you're looking for a spark in different areas when you inject certain players into the game and Cody, on the physical side, has been good, and Nathan on the offensive side, power-play-wise and even was in on the first goal (Saturday). Cody's been in on a couple of goals. I think that's a bonus.
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