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Vanek in, Savard doubtful for Game 6 in Boston

BOSTON -- It's likely Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek will play Monday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals here against the Boston Bruins. And it's unlikely Boston Bruins center Marc Savard will appear in the contest.

The Bruins lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2, and can eliminate the Sabres in Game 6 at TD Garden (7 p.m. ET, CBC).

Vanek has missed the past three games after suffering a left ankle sprain in Game 2.

"He has to skate this morning, but all indications point toward he's going to play," coach Lindy Ruff said. "And he didn't knock on my door, either."

Ruff was referring to his comment Saturday that Vanek would have to knock on his door and tell him he's ready to play.

"There's only person -- and I reference Thomas -- who 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' hands."

-- Sabres coach Lindy Ruff

Vanek skated briefly for the sixth straight day at Monday's practice in TD Garden, but was unavailable for comment afterward. Vanek skated after Ruff spoke to the media, so there remains a possibility Vanek could tell Ruff he isn't ready.

"Can we go over this one more time?" Ruff said with a sigh when asked again how he'll know if Vanek can play. "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 to 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 -- who 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' hands."

Vanek, 26, led the Sabres with 28 goals during the regular season. The five-year NHL veteran was fourth in team scoring with 53 points and was plus-9 in 71 games.

Ruff, however, did say he has the final say, even if Vanek thinks he's ready.

"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," Ruff said. "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."

Ruff said Vanek has to agree to a full-time role, but Ruff said he could finesse Vanek's ice time if needed.

"I've said to him that he's got to go all-in. It's got to be all-in, right off the bat," Ruff said. "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."

The Sabres were up 2-0 in the first period of Game 2 when Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk hooked and slashed Vanek, who fell into end boards and hurt his foot. His return would invigorate a lineup that's scored just four goals in the last three games.

"It's a big boost," said Sabres right wing Mike Grier, whom teammate Ryan Miller called "the best player in the series for either team" today. "Thomas was playing well before he went down. It gives us another guy who can score goals."

Bruins coach Claude Julien has stressed throughout the series that he doesn't focus on what the Sabres are doing, he focuses on getting his team to play their best.

"What they bring tonight -- they can bring whatever they want -- it's what we need to bring," Julien said. "That's where my focus is, not what they're going to bring -- what are we going to bring? I think I need to worry about preparing my team more than worrying about what they're going to bring."

Savard, 32, has not played since March 7 when he suffered a concussion on a blindside hit delivered by Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke. He began skating a week ago Sunday, and has began practicing with the team Saturday, engaging in light contact. He participated in Monday's optional skate, which mostly was light skating and shooting against goalies Tim Thomas and Dany Sabourin. Starting goalie Tuukka Rask did not appear at practice or for interviews.

Savard will undergo a neurological/psychological examination at Massachusetts General Hospital that could result in doctors clearing him to play. To date, he has received medical permission only to practice and to work on his conditioning.

"There's no confirmation right now," Julien said, leaving the door open a small crack that Savard could get clearance and be inserted in the lineup. Several teammates said privately they doubted that would happen.

Contact John McGourty at jmcgourty@nhl.com